Three weeks ago, I attended my fiftieth high school reunion and it was amazing. Simply amazing. Amazing that it’s been fifty years since graduation. Amazing to reconnect with those friends. Most amazing though, was that despite my advanced age, the friends I made at Valencia High School are still teaching me things or at least reinforcing lessons I’ve learned along the way.
For over forty years, I have lived in Northern Nevada (near Tahoe, not Vegas) and 500 miles from my home town of Placentia, California just east of Los Angeles. However, because of the internet, I could serve as part of the “virtual” planning committee. I helped with social media posts, emails, and some cyber-sleuthing. I learned to search county assessors’ records for addresses, proving that you can indeed teach an old dog a new trick.
As plans progressed we were excited to reconnect with long-lost friends and enjoyed many virtual reunions on Facebook and via email. You see, some of us had started kindergarten together when our little town was a sleepy place in the heart of Orange County, surrounded by orange groves. Our downtown boasted a packing house next to the train tracks and a Rexall drugstore with a soda fountain. The population was less than 2K in 1950. By 1968 it had grown ten times to over 20K. Much of that growth was due to the burgeoning aerospace industry for which Placentia became a bedroom community. Today the population of Placentia is about 52K.
And while I’ve been gone from Southern California for decades, others never left. They are still friends with and see each other in real life—not just on Facebook. A few married their high school sweethearts.
Over one hundred attended the party. Some flew in from across the country. One flew in from his home in Denmark. I’m sure there were many bionic hips and knees, and some spinal fusions and cataract surgeries, and surely a few heart attacks, strokes, and cancer scares. Still, it was surprising–given we are all the same age–the range of how old we looked. Some were still rockin’ on the dance floor–and playing in the band!–until midnight. Others used a cane or a scooter to get around. Some had changed so much that I could have passed them on the street and not known them. Others retained so much of their youthful selves that aside from wearing glasses and a few extra pounds, I would have known them anywhere. A few looked 45 at most. (I’m looking at you, Theresa, Judy, and Gail!) Some looked 80. Happily, I think I was somewhere in the middle.
I’ve learned that how we age is not only the choices we make. It’s not all about sunscreen, exercise, and low-carbs. It’s a matter of our genetics, what life throws our way, and how we weather those challenges. Illness, family tragedies, financial stresses, and access to healthcare all work to age us and make us look and feel older than we are. I know I’ve been lucky and am grateful.
I have to admit some trepidation about how we’d get along for an evening, consdering the horrific, hateful state of American politics–and the presence of alcohol. This was Orange County, after all. Reagan Country and the home of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. But I shouldn’t have worried. No one talked politics, at least not in my presence and I hopped from group to group all night. We were simply so happy to see one another that potential bones of contention just didn’t come up. Go figure.
Happily, I discovered that I would choose many of these people as friends again. They are still smart, kind, compassionate, and funny—the same qualities I look for in new friends. I had good taste, even in high school. A prime example is my long-time, long-distance friendship with Bruce who was one of my two handsome and charming “dates” for the evening. The other was my brother, one of my favorite people in the world.
I also learned that reminders of our mortality are everywhere. Of the nearly 400 members of the class of 1968, thirty had passed—that we know of. They had succumbed to the Vietnam War, suicide, AIDs, cancer, heart attacks, and accidents. Given our age, this will become much more common. In fact, three classmates have passed just since the reunion. I know there are more goodbyes in our future.
My biggest regret however, was that the reunion was simply too short. There wasn’t enough time to sit and visit with more than a few people. The cancer researcher who was in my wedding. Two retired nurses who moved across the country to live near their children. The she who used to be he. The surfer girl who settled in Idaho. And a dozen more…
Sadly, this reunion will likely be the last for many of us. Maybe we shouldn’t wait ten years to get together again at our 60th. At our age, just being alive is something worth celebrating, right? I think 55 years sounds good. Or maybe 51.
When South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a small herd of traumatized elephants onto his private game reserve at Thula Thula in Zululand, his experience and common sense told him to refuse. After all, a rogue elephant is a fearsome and dangerous creature. But Anthony possessed a gift that few of us have, a sort of sixth sense about what these distressed and distrustful animals needed and quickly went to work preparing to take them in.
Anthony’s goal was not to tame these rogue elephants. He wanted them to once again be wild and free, to live as they were intended. Not to trust humans—certainly not. They’d been betrayed by hunters and poachers—but to trust him. Only him.
He started slowly, very slowly, by merely observing them from a distance.
“Previously traumatized wild elephants appeared to regain a degree of faith in new humans once the matriarch has established trust with just one new human. But it must be the matriarch.”
He cites evidence of the elephants’ profound intelligence. Early on they outsmarted the electrified fence by testing it and then downing trees to disable it. They also showed an uncanny ability to communicate over long distances–even with Anthony himself–by sensing when he would arrive home from a trip to greet him.
“Elephants transmit infra-sound vibrations through unique stomach rumblings that can be received over vast distances. These ultra-low frequencies, which cannot be detected by human ear, oscillate at similar wavelengths to those transmitted by whales; vibrations that some believe quaver across the globe.
Evolution is ruthless; anything not essential to survival withers on the gene-pool vine. Thus, it is only reasonable to postulate that elephants are using these advanced long-distance frequencies for a specific purpose—to communicate coherently, one to another and herd to herd.”
Anthony’s patience and passion saved these elephants from certain death and taught him lessons that would benefit us all.
“They taught me that all life forms are important to each other in our common quest for happiness and survival. That there is more to life than just yourself, your own family, or your own kind.”
“From Nana, the glorious matriarch, I learned how much family means. I learned just how much wise leadership, selfless discipline and tough unconditional love is at the core of the family unit. I learned how important one’s own flesh and blood actually is when the dice are loaded against you. [and]…that there are no walls between humans and the elephants except those we put up ourselves, and that until we allow not only elephants, but all living creatures their place in the sun, we can never be whole ourselves.
This book will give you not only a profound appreciation for elephants, but also for how all living things are connected in ways we’ve never thought of. Recommend.
I am water.
A few months ago, I suffered a bellyache that confined me to the couch with a heating pad for three days. Of course, it was over a weekend, so I waited until Monday to call my doctor’s office. Of course, he couldn’t see me right away. And of course, by the time I got in, the bellyache had pretty much resolved itself. When I finally got in, the wonderful Nurse Practitioner asked questions and listened as I described my symptoms. She grew suspicious of food allergies and sensitivities.
“I don’t have any,” I protested with a shrug. “I eat everything.”
She nodded, then ordered an ultrasound (to rule out anything really scary) and blood tests—a regular panel and a food sensitivity panel.
“The good news,” she assured me, “You’re not allergic to chocolate.”
But, why now?
It’s hard to believe that after 67 years of consuming milk, yogurt, and cheese nearly every day, that this could be the case. Nonetheless, I reviewed what I had eaten in the day or two leading up to that bad belly. It was my daughter’s birthday and I baked her a cheesecake. The filling hadn’t all fit into the pan, so I had cooked the extra separately. I had consumed some of that overage AND a generous slice on her birthday–as well as a slice (or two maybe? Don’t judge) of homemade deep-dish pizza. Are you counting up the dairy servings here?
Basically, I had OD-ed on dairy.
Some personal history
For over a decade I’ve stuck to a pretty healthy regimen of lean protein, whole grains, and lots of fruits and veggies. It’s allowed me to maintain the thirty-five-pound weight loss I achieved with the help of Weight Watchers. So, like anyone who is in the habit of looking at food labels and weighing the pros and cons of almost everything that goes into my mouth, I sought out nondairy alternatives for my favorite foods. I found many substitutes, some of which actually taste okay. Not delicious, but okay.
I learned a few things. For example, “nondairy” creamer contains casein, the milk protein. I also discovered that many of the milk substitutes offer little nutrition, especially protein and calcium. Some items (I’m looking at you, almond milk yogurt) are higher in calories than the items I’m trying to replace. Sure sorbet is dairy-free, but nowhere near calorie-free. A predicament for someone intent of maintaining what’s left of her girlish figure.
Breakfast protein has been my biggest challenge. Certainly, there are plenty of dairy-free, egg-free protein sources out there–nuts, beans, edamame. But will I eat a bowl of garbanzos for breakfast? Probably not.
For me the idea of never having a fro-yo, a poached egg, or a slice of Tillamook sharp cheddar again is unthinkable. Therefore, I’ve decided on a “middle of the road” strategy for now and have applied the 80/20 rule. 80% of my diet will accommodate my food sensitivities, especially dairy and eggs. No more than 20% will be from the forbidden list. With that in mind, I’ve cut way back on my cheese and yogurt consumption, substituted almond or soy milk in my lattes, enjoyed eggs just once a week, and spread Tofutti cream cheese on my bagel. So far, so good. No bad belly.
If you’ve faced similar food issues, what are you eating now? Have you discovered any helpful resources? Please share! I’ll post here from time to time as I figure this out.
Furthermore, since I don’t want troublesome foods gang up on me again, I won’t risk Eggs Benedict, fondue, lasagna, and cheesecake on the same day. Not even on my birthday.
I am water.
Well, 90% water anyway.
With that in mind, I began my New Year’s meditation with a babbling creek. This is the image I intend to focus on this year. Just as a stream flows gently, effortlessly around logs and boulders in its path, I will find my way around every obstacle in my path. I will grow neither angry nor frustrated. I am water. I always find a way through and past a boulder. Even a dammed creek can only be held back for so long until it flows over the top or creates a new path. Nothing can withstand the persistent force of water. And in time, water erodes obstacles, dissolving them, turning them to sand.
I am water.