What’s Behind the Curtain

A black background with red curtains and the words " what 's behind the curtain ?"

🎡My wife and I have made a lot of new friends recently. Last year, we moved to a retirement center with about 450 of us old people strolling around a vast compound. We have been here for ten months, which has given us plenty of time to create friendships. It took me a long time to figure it out, but I realized one day that what I know about someone is only what they want me to know, and the same is true for them. They only know about me the information I give them. They have absolutely no idea of what goes on “behind the curtain.†I have friends who are caretakers of their spouses who require their attention 24 hours every day (I read recently that one in five people are caregivers). I know people that are fighting cancer, have eyesight problems, and like me, deal with the difficulties of getting old. Sadly, the health of caregivers fails to get the attention it needs.

After dinner the other night, I sat down beside a woman in the lounge that is 101 years old. She looks terrific to be that age, but she complained she was bored most of the time. Her day comprises watching TV, eating, and sleeping. I know she is always waiting outside the large room set aside for nightly entertainment (which happens several times weekly). A few weeks ago they had a seventeen-year-old boy singing songs by Frank Sinatra and other well-known singers from many years ago. He made a splash with the women, stopping to sing to them personally. When he stopped to sing to my wife, she had the biggest ole smile on her face. I love watching her smile, it always warms my heart â¤ï¸. There is also a room used for movies and most of them are at least 20+ years old. One night “The Birds†by Alfred Hitchcock was on. I watched that movie while in high school in the late 1950s 😊, but for many of us, we don’t remember, so it doesn’t really matter.

Anyway, back to only knowing what people want you to know about them. Very few people know I grieve almost daily about losing my only son three years ago, or that I worry about losing my only remaining child because of her health problems. Many of us have secrets we hold close to the vest, seldom letting them see the light of day. A friend told me recently that she was ready to pass over to the other side. I was shocked, not understanding that her life at this stage was so unfulfilling. I think the disbelief was because she seemed happy, appeared in good health, had an interesting personality, and a caring attitude. The fear is if it could happen to her, could it happen to me?

I know that I have to look for happiness in the smallest places. A cup of Starbucks coffee raises my spirits, taking a trip back to my hometown (Grundy, VA) always makes me feel happy for weeks. Flying my drone in the common area behind our cottage makes me smile. Taking my truck to the carwash, then vacuuming the inside, brightens my day (I enjoy seeing my truck looking good). Attending the little resident get-togethers we have in the gazebo outback always brightens my day. Having dinner with our friends Jerry & Ruth helps make the day better. For some unknown reason, he always makes me smile. I think everybody needs a friend like him. Throw in our friends Nancy & Richard, and you have a recipe for a beautiful conversation.

There are so many places to look for happiness. We all, as kids, had Easter Egg hunts and as adults, we need to have Happiness†hunts. It’s not a challenging game to play, and the rules are simple; find something to do, someone to talk to, someplace to go. Life cannot get any simpler than that 😊.

Havelock Ellis famously said, “The promised land always lies on the other side of a wilderness.†Sad, but true.

âš¾ I was recently encouraged to add chess as another hobby to enjoy as a pastime endeavor. Never mind that I haven’t played that challenging game in 50 years. As I recall, the year was 1972 and my young family of four were headed to Alabama on vacation to watch the NASCAR race at the new Talladega Superspeedway, and then on to a small town outside Dallas, TX, where my 12-year-old son was born. During that trip, I taught him the game of chess, and within six months, he was soundly thrashing his dad. He eventually became a chess whiz on his high school chess team, winning many tournaments. I have not played chess since then. Currently, my record is one win and three losses. I’m hoping to get better. The good thing about the game is that it makes me think hard. I haven’t had to do that in a long time, so I’m guessing it’s good for me.

I think the following quote applies to my situation: “Hope is the only good that is common to all men; those who have nothing else possess hope still.” ~ Thales. That probably describes me pretty well 😊!

âš¾Joan Didion said, “You have to pick the places you don’t walk away from.† I gave that some thought, trying to determine what she was talking about, and concluded that it’s about picking fights carefully. I’m certainly guilty of failing to do that very thing. Or, she may mean not walking away from important things to pursue. Our church constantly needs financial support, and they ask for money often. Sometimes, I get annoyed that they aren’t monitoring their spending carefully. Still, it is a worthwhile cause, and we put aside our grumblings and help. It is difficult to ignore our preconceived notions about how an organization should be managed, or how our family and friends should make the same decisions we would make. I have concluded that you most likely aren’t doing much of anything if you don’t make mistakes. That may be overly simplistic, but there is a kernel of truth there. If I dared to look back over the mistakes I’ve made in my lifetime, depression would set in, and I would stay there for days. Joan is right. Pick your battles carefully and only engage when the stakes are high.

🎡 Winter is almost over, spring is just around the corner, and I’m relieved that in a few short weeks, flowers will bloom, the grass will turn green, and the temps will start warming up. My spirits always rise just a bit when that happens. I no longer take the seasons for granted because I’m more aware there aren’t an endless number of seasons left for me. That critical fact makes them more meaningful and enjoyable. Aside from that, the upcoming spring/summer allows us to resume our travels. Covid cases in our town dropped from 1,000 weekly to 30 this past week. Our retirement community no longer requires us to wear a mask in most places, making life much easier. It is so much more enjoyable to hold a conversation when you can see the entirety of a person’s face.

Are we getting to where we can treat Covid as an endemic instead of a pandemic? From all I have read and been told, that is a possibility. What a joy it will be to get back to a semblance of normal, but we have to be careful. We thought the same thing last summer and then everything changed for the worse, and we went back to face mask mandates and a booster shot. Heaven forbid that happens again! My wife and I have been fortunate during this fearful and depressing time. So far, neither of us has been exposed to that dreadful and deadly virus. We feel blessed, and we love the life we live, even as the restrictions of the past two years required us to shelter in place. We will wear a mask when we have to enter an airport, people from all over the world come and go, or when we are in an area with high transmission rates. I think that is mostly places where the vaccination rate is low. We also will also wear one when we are around friends and family that are immunocompromised. Somehow, we will get through this terrible time, but I do regret that at our age we have to give up so much of the measured time we have left to stroll around on this beautiful planet.

That brings to mind a Tom Waits quote, “All that you’ve loved is all you own.” This pandemic has reinforced Tom’s sage advice.         ….Tommy