A Wave Of Sadness Swept Over Me When I Saw Her

A woman who was my best friend for about 20 years is dying. We haven’t been pals for the last 20 years because we simply “grew apart,” but I did invite her to dinner a few years ago, and we spent a couple of hours catching up on our kids, our jobs, and our partners.

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When she walked out, I sensed we wouldn’t see each other again, but I surely didn’t think the reason would be her serious illness. She hadn’t told me that she had breast cancer years ago; I learned about it from a mutual acquaintance, and that it had returned and spread.

Then, one afternoon when David and I were walking past her apartment with dog Rigby (L lives 4 blocks away),  I saw her husband and two sons lifting her, in a wheelchair, into a taxi.  A wave of sadness swept over me. I remembered how beautiful and lively she was when we met in our twenties, her blond straight hair the complete opposite of my dark curly hair; her deep blue eyes and porcelain skin stark contrasts to my brown eyes and olive skin.

We were opposite in more ways than our looks: She was always late; I was always early. She dressed impeccably in expensive designer duds; I threw things together. She labored over every word she wrote. I churned out copy a mile a minute. She had to associate with the ‘in’ crowd.  The cool contingent usually looked at me as an outsider. We nevertheless ‘entertained’ each other in ways no one else could.  I found it amusing going to dinner at her house and being served by a housekeeper. I loved getting her older son’s handmedowns for my son. She once told me, ‘I don’t have to go the the theatre when I have you as my friend.’ (more…)

The Untimely Death Of A New Father

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thecaptionI only met Paul once, at the wedding of my friend, Joanna. Paul was married to Lucy, Joanna’s twin sister.

Lucy and Paul met at the Yale School of Medicine, and eventually went on to do their residencies at Stanford University Medical Center, he as a neurosurgeon, she as an internist. Exceptionally smart, they also made an exceptionally handsome couple. They had a daughter last July 4th, named Elizabeth Acadia “Cady” Kalanithi.


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“She’s Not Good Enough For My Sonny Boy!”

How would you like a mother-in-law who didn’t think you were “good enough” for her sonny boy? Not so much, of course.

Well, mothers-in-law like this lurk in dark corners all over the world, and, as far as I’m concerned, they’re a repulsive lot. I recently heard about one woman I know, who commented to her best friend about her son’s fiancé: “He could do better.”

Mind you, the girlfriend is reportedly a lovely, educated woman, but she apparently doesn’t cut the mustard in the eyes of her future m-i-l, a woman who has always come across to me as unfriendly, impertinent, and hoity-toity. Apparently, she’s not pleasant to the young woman, either. If she was going to be my m-i-l, I’d be distressed, big time. Unless, of course, my future husband assured me that he knew his mother was trouble, with a capital T.

Let’s say your ridiculously handsome son graduated from Harvard, got his law degree from Yale and earns $2.7 million a year at the most prestigious law firm in the country. Do you think all this makes him “better” than an average-looking woman who graduated, let’s say, from a state university, is finishing her masters at a state university, and is a public school teacher who will unlikely earn big bucks? Of course it doesn’t. But some people base their opinions of others on the schools they attended, the money they earn, the clothes they wear and the look of their faces.

All too often, families that consider themselves “blue bloods” aren’t terribly interested in welcoming anyone into their inner circles with blood of a different color, never mind skin.

What if the son I described above had a terrible accident which impaired him and rendered him unable to work? Would a judgmental m-i-l still consider her daughter-in-law unworthy of her son’s love, as she watched her tirelessly care for her offspring?

I’ve heard mothers over the years describe their daughters-in-law as “too demanding, too lazy, too selfish, too money hungry,” even “too hefty.” Of course, their sons all embodied perfection! I remember my usually mild-mannered, soft-spoken paternal grandmother repeatedly moaning how my uncle was “too good” for his wife, who the family dubbed “crazy.” I loved my uncle, but I assure you he was hardly “too good” for her.

Our sons are free to marry anyone they choose, and unless the women they choose are abusive, who are we to judge their worthiness? And what about those of us who have daughters? What do their mothers-in-laws say about them?

“I feel sexy, oh so sexy, that the city should give me its key!”

I felt sexy for the very first time in the spring of 1965, when I was 18.

I had dropped out of Syracuse University, mid freshman year, and was working at a $65-a-week clerical job for a lingerie manufacturer in Manhattan. I’d been accepted into NYU for the fall semester.

My boss introduced me to her nephew, Vinnie, an NYU sophomore, and I fell for him immediately. Vinnie drove a motorcycle (fast), lived in an apartment downtown, near the university, and was a cool guy (this was the 60s; it was in to be cool). Anything but cool, I did have a fun personality. Mamma Mia! Vinnie found me attractive, and we’d make out in his favorite hangout, a dimly lit, seedy bar near NYU’s pseudo campus of Greenwich Village streets.

Vinnie took me on wild motorcycle rides, when I excitedly clutched him around his hard, muscled torso; invited me to parties at his apartment, and introduced me to his friends. “Good girls” in the mid-60s didn’t have sex before marriage (I don’t think I knew what sex was), but Vinnie elicited tingly new reactions in me, and I began to feel alluring.

Nothing ever came of me and Vinnie. Although I dated during my first two years at NYU, no one turned me on like he did, until I met blonde, blue-eyed, lanky Barry C., editor-in-chief of the yearbook. I started hyperventilating whenever I was within 20 feet of him. Four years my senior, Barry had served for two years in Vietnam, before returning to NYU to complete his undergraduate studies. He was the handsomest man I had ever met, and he was smart and worldly.

After hosting a meeting of the yearbook staff at my parents’ house (I was associate editor and my folks were on vacation), Barry hung back and we wound up, undressed, in my single bed. By this time, I had a rough idea what sex entailed, and although Barry begged and cajoled me to capitulate (“we’ll go to the drugstore; you’ll buy an ice cream cone and I’ll buy foam,” he said), it remained no dice for me. But boy, did he make me feel sexy, even though I continued to look anything but. (By the way, I had to ask Barry what purpose foam served.)

Barry graduated and subsequently married Laura, a real beauty.

A few men, with whom I enjoyed extraordinary sex, have made me feel extraordinarily sexy since the Vinnie and Barry days. Now I’m sitting at my laptop and pondering two questions: 1) What makes a woman feel sexy? and 2) Can we still feel sexy when our hormones are no longer making decisions for our brains?

My short answer to question 1: A woman feels sexy when she’s desired, by a man if she’s heterosexual, and by a woman if she’s gay, to be totally clear. I’m not talking about feeling secure, accomplished, happy, or attractive. I mean just plain sexy, as in sexually appealing. It’s a proven fact that women (or men) don’t have to look like Scarlett Johansson or Brad Pitt, Helen Mirren or Pierce Brosnan, to be sexy. Obese, unlovely, insecure, mean, even bad, people can be sexually appealing.

On to question 2:

Unequivocally yes, we can feel sexy when we’re 50, 60, 70 or 80, with one proviso—that we’re desired.

Sex may not be as orgasmic (literally or figuratively) as it once was, and it may take a great deal more effort to get into “the zone,” but we’re not going to be desired, or desire someone else, if we don’t work at it. And even if we can live perfectly well without actually having sex, it’s no fun to live without physical desire of any kind, once we know how wonderful it is. A gentle touch to the arm, a nuzzle to the neck, an embrace, a soft, warm kiss.

So, if you’re always hanging around with one particular guy—your husband or boyfriend—and if a level of desire, that you desire, is missing in your relationship, my suggestion is to figure out how to bring it back.

P.S. Of course, it’s better to have a respectful and supportive relationship, without desire, than an abusive one, with desire, but why not aim for the stars!

The Power of Love When Tragedy Strikes

I heard three things this past weekend that unnerved me, yet again made me understand the power of love in families.

The 38-year-old son of a former colleague died after fighting metastasized colon cancer for almost three years. I never met the young man, Chris Budd, but I worked closely with his father, Mike, who was an executive at Norelco, the company where I was public relations director when I was 26 to 33. I remember Mike as a man of great integrity, patience and understanding. I had lost contact with him but his wife, Linda, and I started playing Words With Friends earlier this year. Although we IM’d a number of times during games, Linda never once brought up her sick son. I didn’t know Linda well, but I remember meeting her when she was pregnant with Chris, and thinking she was a beautiful and classy woman.

It wasn’t until Linda’s posts recently started appearing on my Facebook newsfeed that I learned about the extent of her son’s illness and about the depth of love that surrounded him during his grueling treatment. “Mike and I were very fortunate to have been able to spend the last 10 days with Chris.

“There were many tears, but as many of you know Chris, there was laughter, too. Oh, how we will miss him! Thank you for all your prayers.” Linda touchingly wrote.

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Two Amazing Men Who Will Make Your Day (I Promise)!

I can’t believe I’m going to write this next sentence: I’ve fallen in love with Facebook.

Or at least I love my Facebook news feed. I read it every night, after I’ve crawled into bed, even if it’s 1 a.m. I can sometimes spend 90 minutes perusing the unending stream of videos, rumination, photos, and articles that people choose to post.

After a day working non-stop on FabOverFifty-related matters, the news feed also helps me stay current on social, cultural and political issues. After all, how can I consider myself a true American if I haven’t seen Kim Kardashian’s wedding dress or heard about Brad Pitt’s red carpet run-in at the premiere of Angelina’s new movie, Maleficent!

On the smarter, more serious or spiritual sides, the news feed gives me some wonderful things to look at, think about and discuss. I recently watched two truly inspiring videos that, coincidentally, conveyed the same lesson that we hear over and over again: Life is short. Really, really short.

Brilliant Australian comedian-musician, 38-year-old Tim Minchin, gave the graduating class at the University of Western Australia his nine life lessons. I urge you to listen to Tim’s address (given in 2013) but here’s a sampling of his wise and witty words:

  • You don’t have to have a dream that you chase. Have instead a passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing there, right in front of you.”
  • Be hard on your opinions. Constantly and thoroughly examine them. Think critically about your own ideas. Be intellectually rigorous. Be hard on your beliefs. Identify your biases, your prejudices, and your privileges.”
  • Be a teacher, an amazing teacher. Be a primary school teacher. They are the most admirable and important people in the world. Even if you’re not a teacher, be a teacher. Share your ideas. Rejoice in what you learn and spray it.”
  • Define yourself by what you love. Try to express your passion for things you love. Don’t define yourself in opposition to stuff. Be pro stuff, not just anti-stuff.”
  • Respect people with less power than you. I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room. I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful people in the room.”
  • Don’t rush. Don’t panic. You don’t need to already know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life at 20. Life is absurd, this idea of seeking meaning in a set of circumstances that happens to exist after 13.8 billion years worth of unguided events.”

“Life will sometimes be long and tough and, God, it’s tiring,” Tim said. “You’ll sometimes be happy and sometimes sad. And then you’ll be old, and then you’ll be dead. There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is, fill it.”

“Life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, having compassion, sharing ideas, being enthusiastic.”

“And love, and travel, and art and wine, and sex, but you know all that already.”

“It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one meaningless life of yours. Good luck,” Tim concluded, to enthusiastic applause.

The second video was about Zach Sobiech, a 19-year-old from Minnesota who died of a rare cancer on May 20th of last year, five years after his diagnosis. I think that, maybe, people like Zach and his amazing, beautiful, warm, loving and oh-so-smart family were put here to teach the rest of us a lesson about the value of life. See the video and decide for yourself.

At any rate, running into Zach and Tim, as well as Kim and Brad, all jammed up there in the same tiny space on my iPhone kind of puts things into perspective.

Gotta love Facebook!

Please tell me what you think after you’ve watched
the videos!

Then. And now.

At 20, I was jealous of my boyfriend’s old girlfriend. I worried he’d leave me to go back to her.

Exquisite Paris
Exquisite Paris

At 62, it doesn’t phase me if my husband looks at every beautiful woman on the street. And tells me how great she looks. I’m sure he loves me and only me.

At 25, my best friend thought only of herself, but I still longed for her approval.

At 62, my friends are happy when I am. And even when they don’t agree with something I’m doing, they still love and support me.

At  30, I smoked like a chimney and drank martinis at business lunches.

At 62, the thought of a cigarette disgusts me and martinis remind me of stale air and cloudy thoughts.

At 35, I was a mediocre mother.

At 62, I try to put myself in my children’s shoes all the time and nothing matters to me as much as they do.

At 40, I was so needy, I confused good sex with love, thought the world revolved around me and impulsive was my middle name. I had to be thin to like myself.

At 62, I know sex has nothing to do with love, recognize I am a speck in the universe, resist 90 percent of my impulses and am perfectly comfortable with my imperfect body.

At 45, I desperately craved the attention and approbation of a needy boss who loved to emotionally abuse his staff and a needy boyfriend who loved to emotionally abuse me.

At 62, I’ve learned to sniff out needy clients and run for the hills. My husband doesn’t have an abusive bone in his body.

At 50, it all started to come together. Thought about leaving my long-term employer and my long-term boyfriend.

At 55, I had my own business, met a wonderful man, craved friends who loved me for myself and loved my sisters like never before.

And FOF friends, like exquisite Valerie Ramsey
And FOF friends, like exquisite Valerie Ramsey

At 62, life is glorious.  Not without its trials and tribulations, of course, but glorious. Here’s to: FOF friends (a few are FUF), emotional security (most of the time), my children (young adults, but always my children), my sisters (FOF, of course), my gorgeous nephews, my former husband (a wonderful friend), my present husband (a friend as well)…

Not to mention Paris, hard work (always), shopping (anywhere), self-control (most of the time), spirit, debates, drive, common sense, almonds and raisins (every day), yoga, and, of course, Rigby (our Norfolk terrier,) even if he irritates mostly everyone I know).

And that’s just for starters.