Roses, Snow, And Living Well

If I could wrap this essay in red satin ribbon and edge it with Belgian lace, I would, for today is Valentine’s Day!!   Regardless of the hype engendered by greeting card companies, chocolate-makers, florists and lingerie designers to bring in dollars —– it is a holiday with genuine history, and is a fine occasion for telling people for whom we care how special they are — something we probably don’t do often enough.  It doesn’t have to be the traditional “Roses are red; violets are blue;” it can simply be “I’m grateful you are part of my life.”  Of course, a bit of chocolate never hurts!   

Legends say that this holiday may have begun from the Roman Lupercalia, a day for honoring Juno, the queen of the Roman gods and goddesses.   Then there are several stories of how Valentine became involved.  One version is that when Claudius II (268-270 AD) banned marriages so that he would have more single young men for his wars against the Goths, Valentine secretly married young couples in defiance of the law and was arrested.  A second is that while in prison for helping Christians escape persecution, he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, and wrote her notes signed “your Valentine”.  His way of signing cards continues to this day on February 14th.  However it was that St. Valentine played a role, he did become a martyr of the church, and when Christianity spread throughout Europe, Lupercalia morphed into St. Valentine’s Day and is noted as the day Valentine was executed.*  Today we celebrate it as a slightly frivolous but quite delightful day for spreading sweetness, light and love.  So Happy Valentine’s Day to each of you who reads this!

I’m finding it quite hard to fathom being half-way through February.   Days lengthen and cold strengthens” is an old adage.   Those planning the “Crappie Derby” (an area ice-fishing festival) always hope for truth in that adage.  And at this point in the winter, kids (and probably teachers) are wondering how many “snow days” might still be needed.  A couple of weeks ago, when it was below zero with gusty winds, there was discussion among several of us about cancelling events.  Something like the derby mentioned above is cancelled if the ice isn’t the requisite number of inches (which, unfortunately, is so this year), but the decision about other events isn’t always so easily made.  There are those who just keep going regardless of the weather, like that energizer bunny.  This is behavior that seems admirable, but may also contain just a little bit of arrogance —-“nature can’t stop me!”   my body can stand the cold!” “I won’t get frost bite!” “my car engine wouldn’t dare quit! “I’ll just bundle up and drive carefully!”  Note all the references to “I” and “my”?  Meanwhile, road crews are asking people to stay home, wind chills can be difficult for those with respiratory issues and just the mere thought of going out into that wind and icy temperatures might make one’s blood run cold as well as frosting fingers and toes.   Of course there are individuals who are responsible for critically ill people, animals who need care and provision of emergency services; they must go out — and their courage and devotion to duty should be applauded.  But for those who could stay in, my feeling is that a bit less of the stiff upper lip and a tad more relaxed “Manana” would be a useful outlook and might prevent injury to one’s self or others.  Moderation seems not to be a popular philosophy! 

February may be a short month, and closer to spring, but it can be a cold snowy time making it difficult to think daffodils and tulips.  As the distance between my childhood oblivion and my current over-informed self increases, I find that it is sometimes difficult at any time to think daffodils and tulips; as in remaining positive and light-hearted.   Some days are downright discouraging especially if I’ve watched the national/world news.  But in spite of occasionally wanting to pull the covers over my head and stay in bed for a month or two, I don’t accept that physical difficulties or emotional stresses give us a free pass to be cranky or withdrawn from life forever.  From experience, I know that life will likely look brighter —– eventually —- especially if one looks for the good and helpers, as Mr. Rogers suggested.   So take some time off and then rejoin humanity!

In my 21 years at the Office for the Aging, I learned some incredible life lessons from those people who used our services.  I saw one woman go through knee replacement surgery, and then absolutely refuse to even try the physical therapy that would make it possible to use those new knees.  She spent the rest of her days in a wheel chair, bemoaning her restricted life.  That was a lesson in what not to do!   But others, who dealt with incredible loss, intense grief, and life-changing disabilities, went on being (unsuspected by them, I’m sure) my role models because of how they handled their changes in life.   They weren’t always upbeat, but they were tenacious and determined to live as best they could.  And they didn’t spend time blaming.

In spite of physical issues that may accumulate during one’s aging process, those clients, and many of us in our retirement feel that we can continue to do wonderful and interesting things; traditional expectations for aging no longer apply.  What we choose to do may not require the strength, energy and agility of younger years, but we continue to have fun, paint, write music, garden, laugh, grow and give back.  We do not spend a lot of time in rocking chairs (unless knitting, quilting or reading) and we do not expect to sit out our last quarter-century of life quietly twiddling our thumbs.    Maya Angelou **(who should definitely know) said: “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”  This realization could apply to any age and to any trauma.   Illness or trouble may be with us, but it doesn’t have to define us.  We can keep on growing and being more.  One centenarian, when asked about the upside of aging smiled and responded, “There’s very little peer pressure!”*** This might be understood as a) there are very few peers around, or, b) I don’t really care what others think.  It is probably a bit of both!  My conclusions are that no matter how fatigued or disabled, I can always be a listener, a story-teller and a pray-er…… all useful occupations.   I may, though, continue to complain just a little bit that I can’t do the Charleston or climb to Machu Picchu.****  

January and February are full of family birthdays for us.  Some people regard their natal days as very special and others barely acknowledge them.  It’s a little sad when people speak as if their birthday is just another day.  They either do not value themselves as unique creations or they fear the people around them don’t.   Birthdays are perfect occasions to say it is a good thing that you were born; the world would not be the same without you.    It is false modesty or an attitude that needs therapy to feel unworthy to be celebrated.  A birthday is at least worth a special cookie if not a brass band.  Children have no problem thinking their birthdays are most important occasions.  And it isn’t just because they get gifts; it is because they are enthusiastic, alive and thrilled with life – as we all could be if we stopped to think about the wonders around us.   So if your birthday is approaching, buy a few balloons, dance around the room and take some time to think about why you (and the rest of your world) should be glad you are you.  L’Chiam!!

Because today is St. Valentine’s Day it is probably too late to go out to buy red construction paper, lacy doilies, glue and ribbons.  Making one’s own valentines is a fun way to spend an afternoon, but since the day is here, there is still the phone and Email!  In whatever way you choose, remember that celebrating is never a waste of time.  Send birthday cards, send valentines —– let people who are special to you know that they are.  It is a kind, celebratory, loving thing to do.  And may everyone get a little candy heart that says, I LUV U!  

Carol may be reached at:  

*Information on Lupercalia and St. Valentine mostly gleaned from Google.

**Maya Angelou – 1928-2014.  American poet and author, civil rights activist, inspirational speaker.  

*** I have no idea where I saw this quotation —- maybe in some magazine.

**** Machu Picchu — 15th century Inca citadel in Peru.

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