Imagine the shock you may encounter that I’ve unexpressed thoughts on the departing and incoming years. 2011 was a great and awful year in many ways. We’re hoping that 2012 will have more great, and less awful. Here’s my list of hopes, fears, joys, and discoveries from 2011 and for 2012 In no particular order:
1. Aging parents create new challenges for which there are no textbooks, no magazine articles, and no roadmaps.
My mother, at 88, is more childlike all the time. The medical term for her cognitive change – loss, really – is “senile dementia,” which is both cruel and accurate. There are many known causes. There is no cure. For now, compassion and routine are enough to allow her to live independently, comfortably, and with a measure of dignity. I’m terrified that progressive cognitive loss will tip the balance and require a change in her living situation. I’m hoping that after a long and eventful life, one night she will breathe her last breathe, and spare me the horror of seeing her infantilized and her the horror of being the child to my adult.
Does this sound horrible or insensitive to you? Tough. I’ve had to make a horrifying decision at the end of my father’s life, too: remove him from a respirator and watch him die, or allow him to continue to exist, trapped in a failing body. I chose to watch him die, with comfort and compassion surrounding him. It’s far more humane to understand that the end of life is the end, rather than to beg and plead for a few more hours, days, months or years bound by increasing limits and mounting losses. My mother talks often about being “ready to go.” I understand and support her.
2. When work is the majority of your life, the appeal of home is greater than any amount of luxury.
Both G2 and I have work that we love. (OK, I love my work more than he does). But the sheer volume of work, and the expectations that we have of ourselves (not to mention other have of us) mean the time devoted to work has grown radically, for both us. Add to that a travel schedule that includes two to three weeks a month away from home for Graham, my regular trips to Oregon for elderwrangling, and you can understand how we’ve grown to resent travel. Upgrades? Fur lining on the shackles. Exotic destinations? I’m tired of novelty right now, thanks. While I believe that home is wherever you are with the ones you love, I prefer that the one I love share the same physical space at certain 85 year-old house in Washington, DC.
3. Music which sounds like it is from the past and future at the same time is what I want to listen to right now.
TV on the Radio. Caetano Veloso. LCD Soundsystem. Luisa Maita. Criolo. Joni Mitchell. Deathfix. Brian Eno. Afrika Baambaata. Brad Melhdau. Talking Heads. Joshua Redman. Monk. Bebel Gilberto. Marvin Gaye. J.S. Bach. The Clash. David Darling. Yeah, it’s a pretentious list. Sue me.
4. When the world is running down, get fucking furious and make it better.
I wish I could live this better. Alas, I’m no Caldicott, Gandhi, or Maathai. But for those of us who are privileged, but not obscenely wealthy – let’s say the 90 - 99% -- we need to recognize that while our road to hell is cosseted with good woolens, fine leather, and the best food the Earth has ever produced, we’re burning our planet to the quick along with the 1%. There is no genetic replacement for me – by choice. For the people I love and with whom I’ve a parental relationship, I’m horrified of the world that I’m bequeathing to them. Increasing inequality, increasingly scarce resources, and a climate that is changing in ways even the best modeling can’t predict: that’s not something I’m proud of leaving behind, and I will do more to change it.
5. Making and taking care of things is a great gift, and one that we undervalue.
My parents imbued me with values that encourage do-it-yourself. I’m grateful for those values, and try to live it. Yes, it’s in small ways – we have a garden that we care for ourselves, we clean our house, and we minimize our use of services provided by others when we can (see item 2). But when we do purchase things made by, or use the services of others, we try to make sure that the providers are well and fairly compensated for the work that we engage them to do.
6. Live, love, laugh.
Three simple words to live by. We’ve already resolved to do more of all three in 2012, and hope that all of our friends and family will do the same.