Best of our lives


Older and Wiser

Having just returned from a month-long travel adventure, I’m struggling to get back into the swing of a normal life. My wife Trisha and I were very blessed to have experienced the trip of a lifetime. Nearly four weeks in Italy and two brief days in Paris. I am no longer John, I’m Giovanni.

I hope to share some highlights of our trip in future blogs, but only after we have reviewed the 1,400 photos (it’s true) my wife took, and the four hours of video I shot. Our sons are actually in the process of drawing straws to see who will brave to visit first and be subjected to the media barrage.

Interestingly, my most enduring recollections are not the snow-covered Swiss Alps framing beautiful Lake Como, nor the moon hovering over the romantic bay of Positano on the Amalfi coast. For me, it was our travel companions, fellow travelers we met along the way, friends we visited in their home country, and all the other interesting people we met in chance encounters that made us richer for the experience.

As usual, every time we travel outside the U. S., I’m always struck by the realization that people are very much the same all over the world. I understand that’s not a novel nor profound observation, but it’s a consistent impression with each venture to new lands. All of us want nothing more than to live in peace and enjoy life. We were fortunate on this trip to have had hours of conversations and good times with people we encountered along the way, each of whom served to enrich our experience.

First of all, after one week on our own in southern Italy, we were joined in Milan by dear friends and travel companions Lyn and Herb. Now, after several trips, more  like sisters and brothers, we shared both adventures and numerous hours in ristorantes, pizzerias, trattorias, and bars, laughing, discussing history, trivia, solving world problems, and simply gazing out at the beautiful areas we visited. 

It seemed in every place we traveled, from tourist to inn keeper, local to shop owner, most everyone was personable and interesting. In fact, one such  memorable experience came one night at a local ristorante we frequented in Verenna on Lake Como. I had the good fortune of ordering a delicious plate of smoked salmon ravioli. After everyone sampled, Trisha asked the owner if she might learn how to cook this heavenly dish. He invited her to report for duty the next night before the dinner service began. When she arrived the next evening, the chef not only taught her how to cook the dish, she actually prepared our dinner. The owner and server took great pride as the dish was served, proud of their student.

There were many other interesting people we met along the way. While we didn’t get the names of everyone, we did share information with several. To name a few: Al and Marsha, Matt and Debbie, Robert and Kim, Australians Greg and Ingrid with son Harry, Al and Martha, Rock and Paula, Frederick from the south of France, Australians Larry and Nina with friends Greg and Theresa, John and Barb, Australians Martin and Roxanne (who gave us lots of travel tips), Scott and Valerie, Joe and Donna, Brian and Kim, newly wed Australians Brook and Sam, horse breeder Mimmo from Positano, Italian train traveler Alexia from London, and engaged couple Amit and Sonal who graciously interrupted their romantic afternoon along the Seine in Paris and offered to take our picture with Notre Dame cathedral in the background.

An especially memorable part of our trip came when we visited the Lake Garda area of Italy. Our friends, Italian entertainer Maurizio and his lovely wife Danna, actually rented a van and picked us up at the train station. The van was essential given all of our luggage. They entertained us at their beautiful 800 year old home, part of the castle grounds in their small town. They also shared their favorite eateries where we all sampled the local wines and cuisine. Graciously, they also drove us to incredibly scenic and historic areas of the lake. They even awakened early on our last day and drove us to the Verona airport. We cannot thank them enough for their hospitality and generosity.  

I’m sure you get the idea by now. With all the history, beauty and art that surrounded us, it was the personal connections we found the most meaningful. Trisha and I are renewed, encouraged, and profoundly blessed to have had such an adventure. I’m hopeful we will take from our experiences and bring the same spirit and optimism into our daily lives here at home. Becoming a bit wiser as we grow older is a worthy goal.

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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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What is Love?

 

“One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love.”

-Sophocles

 

As we grow older, and hopefully wiser, we may better be able to answer this eternal question. After the lust and attraction of youthful desire somewhat diminishes, the true meaning of love may be better understood.

 

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

-Anonymous, Holy Bible: King James Version

 

Before his marriage, our oldest son came to me and asked a question that momentarily caught me off guard. He wanted to know at what point I knew for certain I loved his mother. After a moment, and wanting to answer his serious question honestly, I said, “Sometime between our second and third year of marriage.”

 

“True love is rare, and it’s the only thing that gives life real meaning.”

-Nicholas Sparks, Message in a Bottle

 

As seniors, I’m sure most of us probably look back and believe the complexities of romantic love, especially at a young age cannot truly be understood. Emotions, hormones, peer and family pressures, and societal conventions all converge to confuse youthful decision-making. In fact, most of us probably believe romantic love does not conform to nor does it lend itself to logic and rationale decisions.

 

“The heart has reasons which reason knows not.”

-Blaise Pascal

 

Like most people, as I’ve grown older I’ve come to realize that love is not the mystical and tingling feeling that one experiences at the mere sight or touch of another, but is the conscious desire and actions to be the best and do the best for another person with whom you share your life, interests and values. Long term romantic love such as marriage requires that each person in the relationship continue to have and demonstrate these desires and actions, as well as the capacity to change and age with their loved one.

 

“Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

-Antoine de Saint-Exupery

 

In other words, romantic love is not the often expressed feeling of “being in love,” but is an active term that requires us to give rather than expecting something from another.

 

“Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get – only with what you are expecting to  give.”

-Katherine Hepburn: Me: Stories of My Life

 

 

Before his marriage, son number two came to me with a similar question as his older brother. I told him that we can never truly be sure, but try to imagine your life without her. Where romantic love is concerned, there are never any guarantees.

 

“Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your hearth or burn your house down, you can never tell.”

-Joan Crawford

 

You might wonder what has put me in such a reflective and philosophical mood to be pondering the meaning of love. There are two reasons. First, this has been an equally wonderful and emotionally trying year. New lives and love have come to me in the form of new grandchildren and new friends. For this I’m blessed. I have also lost more friends and family this year than I’ve ever previously experienced. I suppose it’s part of the price of a long life, and I’m grateful for knowing and loving them all. 

 

“When someone is in your heart, they’re never truly gone. They can come back to you, even at unlikely times.”

Mitch Albom, For One More Day

 

There is another reason for my reflective demeanor. In a few days my wife Trisha and I will share another wedding anniversary. Fifty years ago I met this young woman whose beauty and charm mesmerized everyone she met. But she was much more than a pretty face. She was smart, kind, and a genuinely warm person with  strong moral and spiritual values. She was, in a few words, too good to be true. Now, so many years later and to my daily amazement, we share a loving family and a wonderful life together. What is love? It’s all the things mentioned above and more. It’s mystical and tingly, risky and complex, challenging and rewarding. and the greatest single gift we can give and receive.  

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach.”

-Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

Trisha Parker

Trisha Parker

 

 

 

Trisha Parker

Trisha Parker

My Ship Came In

My late father always joked he was waiting for his ship to come in. Good news. My ship has come in and it was filled with money. Let me explain.

As we get older, many of us have collected lots of “stuff.” I’ve often written about the late comedian George Carlin and his comedy routine about people’s obsession with holding on to items they will never use. He thought it amusing many of us have to rent storage lockers to keep all of our “stuff.” Well George, I got the last laugh.

Now I’m not talking about hoarding. At least I don’t think so. Being an academic, I liked to read newspapers cover-to-cover each day. I also subscribed to weekly magazines, and as part of my job, I had to read hundreds of books on the subjects I taught. For some reason, I hung on to a large number of these items. Again, I’m not talking hoarding.

Now, our storage locker did not look like this, but with some of our kids items sharing the space, much of it in cardboard boxes, the locker was getting a bit out of hand. Recently, for an entire week, wife Trisha and I went to our storage locker each morning for two hours. We carefully sorted through our “stuff” and gave much of it away, threw out a large amount, and kept the things we wanted to store. We put those items in large labeled stackable plastic bins. Our storage is now a thing of organized beauty.

The fact is, in retirement, Trisha and I really try to do the things we wrote about in our book and talk about in public presentations. One aspect of successful aging we talk about is freeing our minds and environment of useless clutter. We realized we had reached the point of feeling a bit guilty about not living up to our own recommendation. At least not 100%. 

Now to the part about my ship coming in. For some reason while sorting through our storage, I kept out a number of boxes of books and magazines. I was convinced they might be worth something. We then discovered a large book store in a nearby town that bought old books and magazines. Eureka!

After years of lugging these things around, one more time I loaded the heavy boxes and we were off. When we arrived at the store, we found the designated area clearly marked. Our excitement began to grow. It took two trips with a rolling book truck from my SUV. The process was made very clear. They would look through the items and then call my name over the loud-speaker. At that point they would make me a “cash offer.” I became a little concerned about leaving the store with so much cash, but it was worth the risk. We were told we could look around the store while we waited, but I was too excited and grabbed a chair to watch them go through my treasures.

After an hour of their investigation, carefully going through every single magazine and book, my name was called. I approached the desk with giddy anticipation. “Mr. Parker,” said the young man. “Yes,” I replied. “Today, we can offer you $2.”   

At last dad, my ship came in. By the way. On the way out of the plaza, I bought Trisha a coffee latte. $2.38.

We laughed all the way home.

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Successful Aging is Living With Passion

For those of us living the second half of life, the reality of our mortality is always in mind. In just the last few months, my wife Trisha and I have lost four friends and one family member. As young persons, we probably all lived in that wonderful state of feeling immortal. Of course, it wasn’t true even then. As we grow older we become acutely aware that our time on this planet comes with a certain expiration date.

Given the responsibilities and unforeseen setbacks of life, it isn’t possible to live every minute exactly the way we might choose, but we should give it everything we’ve got. As a famous radio psychologist used to say, “This is your life, it’s not the dress rehearsal.”

Living our lives with as much passion as possible is certainly one of the principles of successful aging. Even as a young person, I was always struck by the differences in people’s lifestyles. As I age, I’m even more aware and curious about the lifestyles people choose to live.

As an example, there is a Subway sandwich shop I sometimes visit at lunchtime. For years, the same Afro-American lady behind the counter greets her customers with a wide smile and genuinely affectionate greeting. Her positive attitude and passion for life puts everyone in a better frame of mind. I’m sure the routine tasks of her job aren’t particularly fulfilling, but her customers love her and I’m sure she realizes her life is enriched by those positive and life affirming interactions. I’m also sure as many customers stop in to see her as for the sandwiches. I’ve even run in to a celebrity or two at her counter.

On the other hand, I’ve met people with wealth beyond my comprehension and other extraordinary gifts that appear to lead miserable and completely boring lives. What gives? While it may be cliché, “life is what we make it,” seems to be  an accurate truism.

So, how do we live with passion?

First, growing older means we all will have suffered loss in our lives. Overcoming the inevitable tears of life is something we must conquer.

We can live passionately by loving those around us. Be it family or friends, the richness of our lives is defined by our relationships. This doesn’t mean we have to love everyone. We should simply treat people fairly and with respect. Love is an active verb. We should shower those we care for with appreciation and affection. 

Enjoying the simple things in life is another key. Very few of us can afford the time or money for a life of continuous great adventures. Passion can be found by appreciating the simple everyday blessings in our lives.

Another way to live passionately is giving of ourselves by volunteering or donating to worthwhile causes. During this holiday season, the opportunities to help those less fortunate abound. We will always get more than we give.

On a more self-indulgent note, we can formalize the process of living passionately by making up a list of the things we still want to accomplish in our lives. We can learn to play a musical instrument, speak a foreign language, meet someone we admire, reconnect with old friends or family. The choices are many and ours to make.  

I would even add it’s more than acceptable to get a little crazy when making up our list. Remember, it’s our life to live. The possibilities are endless and we don’t need approval for anything we want to do. (At this point I began to write out and share some of the “crazy” activities I’ve engaged in and then thought better of it. Some things are best left unsaid.) The point is, especially in the second half of life, we should thoughtfully and methodically pursue our dreams and passions. It’s now or never. 

Let me leave you with a favorite quote:

A few can touch the magic string, and noisy fame is proud to win them: Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them!   Oliver Wendell Holmes

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