Tag Archives: vulnerability

Becoming an elder

For Christmas, a friend got me a subscription to a magazine on spirituality. I was enjoying the articles in the first issue, on topics from resilience, joy, domestication and healthy hips.

And then I got to the retreat section, featuring spas and meditation centers in places like Costa Rica and Mexico. I skipped those pages since they are unlikely destinations and went to the more-possible selection of sites in the States. Then I landed on one called modern elder academy, and I thought, this is for me, seeing as how I am an elder (71 years old) and I am reinventing myself (modern?).

But it seems that in modern parlance, I am probably more of an ancient because this retreat is geared for elders who are in their forties. You read that right—forties!

When did forty-year-olds become elders?

Has life expectancy dropped precipitously?

I was confused.

I thought we were in a period of having the most centenarians in history. If forty-year-olds are elders, what is someone who have lived more than one hundred years?

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Then I remembered back to the late nineties (when I was in my forties) and my first essay was published. I started getting emails asked me to become resident expert from a variety of e-journals and blog sites. At first, I ignored them because I didn’t understand why I was getting them. Expert? What could possibly qualify me as expert?

But the requests kept coming, so I finally responded to one and was told that since I published an essay on forgiveness, I qualified as an expert. One essay? An expert? I don’t think so.

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A few years after that, I started working with post-college graduates and realized that in the thirty years since I was twenty, a lot had changed. These young people said things like, “I have been doing (insert activity) for years.” “You are only twenty-something,” I would reply. “How many years can it be?” The answer was usually “two” or “three.”

At the time, I was also teaching knitting to mostly twenty-somethings who were going on two-year overseas service assignments, and during one of my knitting classes, one woman asked if I had been knitting for long. “Not too long,” I said. “Maybe ten years.”

“Ten years!” she exclaimed. “That’s almost half my life. That’s very long.” Perspective, I thought.

Then there was the young man who had meditated for fifteen minutes a day for thirty days and raved about how meditation has changed his life. “That is a good start,” I said, and then added, “Come talk to me when you have been meditating fifteen minutes a day for fifteen years.”

Those are now the people who are hitting their forties, and given their confidence in their twenties, I can see that at forty, they might consider themselves full of wisdom—like elders.

Me? I finally accepted my expert status when I was in my sixties and am just now settling into my status as an elder, at seventy-one.

True love lasts a lifetime

True love lasts a lifetime, Emma Thompson declares in Love Actually, (my second favorite movie) referring to her love of Joni Mitchell, a love I share.

My favorite movie, though, is Dirty Dancing, and I have loved it since it was first released in 1987. Dancing-in-the-basement was part of my teen years in my working-class neighborhood in Detroit, and, well, Patrick Swayze as a dancing, working-class hero hooked me.

Soon after the movie was released, a woman I knew through work wanted me to apply for a job in Atlanta, where she lived. Atlanta didn’t particularly attract me, but this woman had grown up in Houston, near Patrick Swayze, and had taken dance classes with Patrick’s mother. She actually knew Patrick Swayze!

I said that if she could arrange lunch with Patrick I would move to Atlanta (my decision-making criteria was fairly superficial). She could not pull that off, but a few months later, this picture arrived in the mail.

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The inscription is faded; it reads “To Madeline, Best wishes, Patrick Swayze.”

I was in heaven. A signed photo from Patrick Swayze. I have carried this picture with me through all my moves and placed it on my desk at every job. True love does last a lifetime.

All of this came back to me when I was in Lucca, Italy, buying a scarf at Zazzi Dalamano. Vladimir is one of the company’s owners, and he was in the store the day I bought my scarf. When Vladimir discovered I was from Michigan, he gasped and said his favorite singer is from Michigan.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“Madonna,” he said, with a sigh that reminded me of how I say Patrick Swayze’s name—somewhat dreamy and wistful.

The person I was travelling with, also from Michigan, actually lived near Madonna and went to the same high school although not at the same time. This information brought another gasp from Vladimir—his connection to Madonna had just gotten closer.

He then told us the story of how he has loved Madonna since he was eleven years old and how he took the train to Rome (about three hours away) to see Madonna in concert when he was eleven. He didn’t say he used his First Communion money, but where else would an eleven-year-old get money to buy a train ticket and a concert ticket?

Anyway, he told his mother he was going to Rome to see Madonna, and she didn’t believe him. I can imagine her rolling her eyes and saying, “Of course you are going to take the train to Rome to see Madonna,” her voice dripping with skepticism.

But he did it, and he has not missed a Madonna concert since then.

I offered to try to connect with Madonna and have her visit his store the next time she is in Italy.

“Oh, no, don’t do that,” he said. “I would have a heart attack and die if Madonna walked into my store.”

Okay, then, I will try to get a signed picture.

True love does last a lifetime.

Be a Joseph

Our Christmas homily included the advice: Don’t be an innkeeper; be a Joseph.

The innkeeper in the Nativity story, the guy who said there was no room and turned Joseph and Mary out, was probably a realist—all his rooms were filled (Luke 2:7). Granted, he may have been inundated with people seeking shelter because of the census so he had no empty rooms, but the priest wondered if the innkeeper had considered all his options? Had he thought of giving up his bed so that a pregnant woman could rest comfortably?

We don’t know. Maybe another pregnant woman had arrived earlier. Maybe…. Well, we just don’t know. The story handed down to us is not a first-person account, so we can only guess at what really happened that night.

The more important thing to consider, though, are our own actions.

We don’t have to go far to find people in need, people facing difficulties, struggling with illness or life’s challenges.

How are we like the innkeeper, turning people away when we feel we are at our limit and they are asking us to make room for them?   

Do we do things a certain way because we have always done them that way? Are we so focused on one course of action that we cannot see alternatives?

When life seems full, do we shut the door and say enough? Or do we make room for one more?

Compare that to Joseph, who had already made up his mind to divorce Mary, until he had a dream suggesting a different course of action. Then he pivots and does as the angel in the dream instructed (Matthew 1:19-24).

I wondered if the innkeeper might have had a dream that night after turning Joseph and Mary away, a dream when an angel told him to go find Joseph and Mary and offer them his bed. But upon waking from the dream, he only said, “I had the weirdest dream last night,” and went about his day as usual. Haven’t most of us done that?

We are all invited to change course from time to time, to reframe a situation, get a different perspective.

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Can we be like Joseph and be willing to rethink our decisions, to make new decisions based on new information? Can we be guided by the whispers of the Spirit when we feel a nudge to reach out to someone, to offer assistance or comfort? Can we hear the voice of God in our dreams and gain insight into a new direction for our lives?

As I review my journals from this year and remember different events, I am aware of how often I am like the innkeeper, choosing to be comfortable rather than stretching to meet another’s need.

My friend Steve (who died ten years ago) used to start each year by choosing a word or phrase to guide him through the year, something that the Spirit had whispered to him.

Be a Joseph is my phrase for 2023.

More light

More light seems to be the theme of this time of year. The winter solstice was the other day, so every day will now get longer; the four candles of the Advent wreath are lit; the Menorah is getting brighter every day; and tomorrow, we celebrate Christmas—more light.

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Thinking about the light of this season makes me think of where I have experienced light throughout the past year.

The first thing that comes to mind is my sister and her two grandbabies. When these babies were born in 2021 (one in November and the other in December), my sister offered to mind them two days a week. Her children took her up on her offer. She asked me to be a back-up, and I happily agreed. Spending Mondays and Wednesdays with my sister and her two grandbabies has brought a great deal of light into my life. The babies are pure joy, and my sister’s generosity inspires me. Every time I see the babies, I see some new development, and they remind me that God is always doing something new—in them and in me.

Was there something new in your life this year that was a bright spot?

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This year has been one of abundant travel, starting in January with a trip to Arizona to hike in Sedona and to visit family. Then in spring, I spent a month in Europe, and then I spent a second month in Europe this fall. In between those European trips, I visited friends in Pennsylvania, and a friend from Delaware visited me. Travel expands me and reminds me of the importance of taking risks in order to keep growing.

Did you have any adventures this year?

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I also completed an Internship in Ignatian Spirituality this year, a program that began in 2020. The program was intensive and arduous, and there were times when I wanted to drop out, but I persisted, and I am glad I did. I learned a lot through all the readings and lectures, and now I have joined a peer supervision group for on-going support and to continue developing my listening skills and ability to accompany people on their spiritual journeys.

What is helping you to grow spiritually?

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Recently, I have been noticing how often I use the word invitation, as in “I got invited to be the guest speaker for a nonprofit fundraiser,” and “I was invited to meet with a nonprofit consulting firm,” and “I got invited to be one of the dancers in a nonprofit’s version of DWTS.” I said yes to all three of these invitations, each of which was a surprise invitation, and each of which challenges me in some way. These invitations remind me that God is still shaping me and that I am still growing into the person I was meant to be, doing what I was meant to be doing. And each invitation reminds me that the best is yet to come.

Where are you being invited to grow?

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Next stop, Tuscany, Italy

After twelve days in France, I flew to Florence for an Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) tour of Tuscany and Umbria. The tour began in Lucca, a walled city about an hour west of Florence.

I arrived three days before the tour began, and I used those days to explore Lucca.

On my first day, I took a walk on the top of the walls and also visited the Palazzo Pfanner, a home and garden inside the walls. Even though it was November, there were plenty of flowers and lemons (I stopped counting the lemon trees at 25. I thought maybe they used all those lemons for limoncello, but I was told they just like lemons).

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Palazzo Pfanner as seen from on top of the city wall. Those are all lemon trees lining the walkways.

I stayed at the San Luca Palace Hotel inside the walls. It was a great location and a wonderful hotel. The staff was extremely welcoming and helpful. Since I was on my own those first few days, I appreciated their suggestions and directions. I highly recommend staying at this hotel because their attention to service was outstanding.

I arrived in early afternoon, and even though it was not meal time, one of the staff offered to make me something to eat (a delicious ham and cheese panini).

Then, I needed a manicure, and the Hotel receptionist recommended a nearby salon. Even though no one in the small salon spoke English, we were able to communicate through gestures, and I got the best manicure I have ever had!

Day one in Italy was the beginning of a wonderful adventure.

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St. Donato’s gate.
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Last stop in France–Marseille

After disembarking from the AmaKristina in Avignon, we went to Marseille for a couple of days. Marseille is a colorful and fairly hilly city, with lots to see and do near the Old Port.

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Outdoor market in Marseille
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Marseille Cathedral near the Old Port (not my picture)

Colorful shops and interesting decor are sprinkled throughout the City.

Lots of restaurant options and great seafood in Marseille. The first day, we had a fantastic lunch at La Brasserie de Joliette near the Old Port and the next day another excellent lunch at Nul Part Allieurs, also at the Old Port.

We did the Hop On/Hop Off bus to get a glimpse of the rest of the city and one of the most curious things we encountered was when our bus was attempting to turn right onto a narrow street, and a car was parked right at the corner so we could not get around it.

The bus driver honked several times, expecting someone to come out, but no one did. A few minutes and several honks of the horn later, a passerby saw our predicament and signaled for the bus driver to come to the car, where he pointed out a note on the front window. The bus driver read the note and called the number indicated on the note.

A few minutes later (and by now we have been sitting there for at least ten minutes), a woman sauntered to the car, casually took off her coat and got in, as though parking one’s car on a corner, blocking traffic and going about one’s business is what is done in Marseille–but the bus driver’s reaction clued us in that this was not what one usually does in Marseille. A lesson in French culture.

A stop in Tournon-sur-Rhone

Our walking tour in Tournon-sur-Rhone included the old city, with the high walls, and a walk across the bridge for a wine tasting and a stop at a chocolate shop.

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Part of the walls around the Old City

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Many buildings throughout the parts of France I have visited have these nooks with statues, often of Mary or a patron saint of the town.
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A door in the Old City
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Pedestrian bridge across the Rhone, leading to the vineyards.

Cruising the Rhone River

Last month, I went on an AmaWaterways river cruise called Colors of Provence, and we sailed from Lyon to Avignon, with stops in Vienne, Tournon, Tarascon and Avignon.

Previously, I had gone on two large ship cruises (Alaska and Hawaii) and a windjammer sailing cruise off the coast of Maine (with 24 passengers), but this was my first river cruise, so I did not know what to expect.

The AmaKristina was built in 2017 and can hold 156 passengers. Most days offered three excursions (included in the cruise price) and a good variety of sights. I did the daily walking tour option and found the local guides to be very knowledgable.

Morning and afternoon exercise classes were offered most days and other amenities (massage, fitness room, laundry, etc.) were available. An e-postcard was offered through the myAmaCruise app, and I found that an easy way to share my cruise with family and friends back home. Here is the e-postcase I send after our stop in Vienne.

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Meals were available in the Main Restaurant, the upstairs lounge (casual dining) and the Chef’s Table, a seven-course meal for a small number of people–I celebrated my birthday in the Chef’s Table, and it was a real treat. Here is my cake:

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Nightly, on-board entertainment was, well, entertaining. A pianist/opera singer jouneyed with us, and we enjoyed his musical talents throughout the days.

While we were still in port in Lyon, a representative from a silk company presented the process by which silk is produced and also had silk scarves for sale. And one afternoon, the sommelier played a wine game where we learned about wine regions in France.

One highlight of the trip was a day trip to Les Baux and the Carrieres des Lumieres. Les Baux is a town built high atop a craggy mountain, offering expansive views of Provence and plenty of shops and restaurants.

At the bottom of the hill is an old limestone quarry which has been repurposed as a theater presenting the Carrieres des Lumieres, an immersive light show inside the quarry. We saw a presentation of the art of Venice, and it was amazing.

I learned a great deal during this cruise and appreciated the excellent service on the AmaKristina. Travel usually includes some hiccups, and the staff responded to the unexpected with calm confidence.

As I reflect on those days, what stands out the most were the conversations I had with other travellers. I was traveling with two friends, and we connected with other women travelers, including a mother/daughter duo. Our travel tribe ranged in age from 24 to 86, and I marveled at the level of trust that developed in so short a time.

I was grateful for this opportunity to see a part of France from the vantage point of a river.

Walled cities

I am drawn to walled cities.

I first became aware of this attraction when I visited Krakow, Poland, thirteen years ago and stayed inside the walls. Even though the walls are no longer intact, a park surrounds the Old City and marks where the walls had once been. I felt safe being inside the Old City.

On my second visit to Krakow a year later, I stayed outside the walls. Every morning, I crossed over into the Old City, and something about being inside the walls felt secure to me.

A few years later, a friend visited Carcassone, a walled city in France, and sent me videos. As soon as I saw the videos, I knew I wanted to visit. It took a few years, but I went last spring, and I specifically chose to travel with Overseas Adventure Travels (O.A.T.) because they offered the opportunity to stay inside the walls of Carcassone.

The tour started further north, though, in Angers, another city with walls. Once again, I felt drawn to being within the walls. When we got to Carcassone, I felt completely at home within the walls.

Last month, I visited Avignon, another walled city, and I again found myself drawn to the inside.

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Avignon, France

And then last week, I visited Italy and spent a few days in Lucca, a walled city in Tuscany.

The walls around Lucca are intact and the top of the wall is a wide path where people walk, run or bike. I walked the path several times during my stay, enjoying the views of the Old City below.

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One of the gates into the walled city of Lucca, named after St. Donato
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Inside the gate, I came across this fireplace and painting.

Not only is Lucca surrounded by a wall, but beyond the walls are mountains, creating the impression of a double boundary.

What is it that draws me to these enclosed places?

Walking the path on the walls of Lucca one day, I pondered the mystery of my attraction to walled cities, and I thought about growing up in Detroit.

Detroit is anything but walled, but there were certain streets which I never crossed. I stayed within the confines of an area around my house, never venturing beyond Woodward Avenue or Eight Mile Road. Without being told to, I had created my own walls.

Awareness brings an invitation, and my awareness of being drawn to walled cities and of creating physical boundaries, makes me think about other walls I have built—not necessarily physical walls but any kind of boundary that gives me a sense of security.

I find myself asking if my walls are a matter of security or a limitation, and if I being invited to step out from beyond the walls and take a chance on what is on the other side.

A few more pics from Lyon, France

Here are a few more pictues from my recent trip to Lyon, France.

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The Baptism of Jesus, Fine Arts Museum, Lyon.
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This replica of the Statue of Liberty is in the Fine Arts Museum

Lyon has many passageways called Traboules which were used during the days of silk making and later used by resistors during World War II. This stairway is part of an interior passageway in an apartment building.

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