January 2013


cavallo_feliciano

Feliciano

When my wife Trisha and I speak to senior groups and organizations about successful aging, one of our most important recommendations is to socialize. Living in isolation has long been shown to be extremely detrimental to both our physical and mental well-being. Remaining social as we age has been one of the most studied and verified behaviors for continued good health and mental fitness.

This brings me to my story. More than forty years ago during the Viet Nam era, I served in the U. S. Air Force. After my first tour of duty stateside, I was sent to a NATO base in southern Italy. Being a newly wed, I desperately wanted my wife to join me. Not having much money, I devised a plan whereby I gave a buddy who was sending his wife home on a Christmas charter a few bucks, and my wife assumed her identity on the return flight. Being in such a remote part of the country, there was no room on the base for us to live so we had to live on the local economy.

Prior to her arrival, I heard of a man in a small town several miles away (it actually had a small castle) that would rent to Americans from the base. I borrowed a car and went to talk with him. He turned out to be a wonderful man named Feliciano. He was the town electrician and had four apartments above his business. He spoke very good English because during WWII he was captured by the allies early on and spent the entire war on a farm in Scotland. Beyond his language skills, during his captivity he realized a value and interest in meeting people from other cultures and perspectives. I was able to rent an apartment from him and it would be our home until my two-year tour was finished.

Visiting with Feliciano was a daily occurrence. Watching soccer on the television in his shop was great fun. He was interesting, polite, and what we might call an “old world gentleman.” Our frequent parties and loud music  brought an occasional knock on our door, but he just smiled and would say “some of the old people have complained.”

I recently discovered Feliciano died last year. It seems his beloved wife had passed away ten years ago and both of his daughters had moved out of the country to be with their husbands. The NATO base had long since closed, and when he retired, Feliciano was left with only his little home on the quiet street of his small Italian village. Finally, one morning he dressed in his suit and tie, lay on his back, put a pistol under his shirt and pulled the trigger. Unbelievably, the official report said he then pulled his shirt down and died. Proper to the end.

Learning of Feliciano’s death, and perhaps more disturbing, his loneliness, has left me very sad. I know he tried all he could to be social and he lived in isolation for as long as he could. I hope he is at peace now.

The life lessons here are so obvious, I’ll spare you the clichés. For us, hearing about our old friend got Trisha and me reminiscing about our time in that village. After some detective work on the internet, I was able to locate a couple who were good friends from our time in Feliciano’s apartment house. They live on the other side of the country, and we haven’t seen them in forty years, but we already have plans to get together sometime next month. I think Feliciano would be very pleased.

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I Get It. I’m Getting Older

          This is a tricky one. I value all my family and friends dearly and don’t want to offend anyone. But enough is enough. For some reason, a number of folks in my age group seem to be obsessed with getting older. That’s fine and it’s really none of my business nor should I be evaluating their fixations or state of mind. But some lines are being crossed. 

If you have reached your golden years, perhaps you will identify with my dilemma. In a nutshell, it seems I can’t go a day without someone telling me how worthless they’ve become because they couldn’t think of a name or some other fact. This is always accompanied with the obligatory complaint about growing old. Also, every day my email contains more than one “funny” cartoon and/or forward about the perils of growing older. 

In a lesser vein, I also receive numerous emails taking strolls down memory lane. Did you know everything was better back in the good old days? Performers, automobiles, and virtually every other thing you can think of. Really? You may actually have some memory issues. 

Now before someone actually gets angry, let me say I understand. Fact is we do slow down in almost every way as we age. And yes, I would love to be riding around in my red ’56 Chevy. But here’s the deal. We are living in this world today. Key word here is living. Sure, we have some years on us, but there are questions we could be asking and answering each day. What would be productive and interesting for me? What can I accomplish? Who can I help? What would be fun? 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not up in some ivory tower scolding and passing judgment. I’m an observer of the aging process. In my humble opinion, we don’t really miss those old cars; we miss ourselves at that age driving those cars. Were drive-in movies really better than watching our big screen plasma with surround sound in the comfort of our home? No, but we remember being at the drive-in with that hot date on a Saturday night and miss all the fun of being young and having our lives in front of us. It’s perfectly understandable.  

But this is life. I’m always inspired by those who accept life and live it fully to its completion. You pick the cliché, but while we still have the ability to think and love, I would hope we would embrace life with every bit of energy and passion we can summon.         

 

Don’t Be Scared of 2013?

As we collectively said goodbye to 2012, I couldn’t help but make a few simple observations of human behavior during this holiday season. I had the good fortune to experience numerous encounters and conversations with total strangers that reflected the positive attitude and behavior we seem to associate with days gone by. These were polite and smiling people, some out shopping and others just doing their jobs. I found myself interacting and even laughing with total strangers. Often these encounters ended with a warm handshake and a belated introduction.

Of course, there were a couple of observations that were of the opposite variety. These usually included the threatening words, “I want to see the manager.” It’s always sad to see this kind of interaction because you know it stems from the individual’s personal unhappiness. It almost seems as though some folks are looking for the negative and if they can’t find it, they will create it.

I’m thankful for the example set by my parents who treated everyone they met with courtesy and respect. Interestingly, I’m also grateful for growing up in an environment in which I had to work at some bizarre and difficult jobs from the time I was 12. This taught me to value and appreciate people regardless of their so-called “station” in life. Many years ago when I left teaching at Pepperdine University in Malibu, someone asked me what or who I would miss the most. After thinking for a moment, I said, “Jose the custodian.” On our breaks, he and I had spent a lot of time sharing and conversing as we looked out over the Pacific Ocean. A wonderful guy. No disrespect to my colleagues, but he was my favorite.

So, what’s the point? Well, as the late Rodney King questioned, “Can’t we all just get along?” Of course, this is simply the Golden Rule I’m talking about. But the fact is, I’m finding it more and more difficult to watch the news, listen to the political pundits, or anyone of that ilk. Two days ago my wife and I were driving and we couldn’t believe the news broadcasts and weather reports we were getting on the radio. From the news people, everything was labeled with some dramatic terms and you would think the world was coming to an end. (Oh, that’s right, it was) Even the weather reports were all pumped up and talked about “monster storms.”

Whatever happened to just giving us the facts of the story? Whatever happened to just calling something a “storm?” I’m no great philosopher, and I certainly don’t have all the answers to solving life’s problems. But for 2013, I think we all just need to chill out, relax, and enjoy each other’s company. As a senior, I’m simply going to say “Goodbye 2012, hello 2013.” No need to be scared.

Friendship

During this holiday season, like so many others, my wife Trisha and I each came down with colds that unfortunately turned into sinus infections. Being blessed this year with a houseful of kids and grandkids, there wasn’t much time for rest. During a brief lull in activity, we were scheduled to have dinner at the home of our good friends Madelyn and Juan. Not feeling up to it, we reluctantly had to cancel. That afternoon there was a knock at our door. Our two wonderful friends showed up with containers of delicious hot soup and a baguette of fresh bread. It was a thoughtful and much enjoyed gift.

Media and More

Thank you to 86 Magazine for the article in their December issue.

Trisha and I have been asked to be speakers at the Boomers Lifestyle Show, February 9 & 10, at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton. Looking forward to this exciting event.

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