Today is an interesting juxtaposition of anniversaries. It's the 100th birthday of Beverly Cleary, who is still alive and doing well. For more on her history, see this article. I am fascinated by the fact that she was one of the first writers who explored the regular lives of ordinary children.
When I was young, Beverly Cleary was one of my FAVORITE writers, along with Laura Ingalls Wilder and whoever was writing the Trixie Beldon series at the time. I loved Beverly Cleary long before I loved Judy Blume. And even now, I have a fondness for those Cleary characters that I don't necessarily have for the Blume characters. That mouse on the toy motorcycle who lives in a hotel! Ramona, who has the normal problems of childhood (being the youngest, oh, how unfair!), not the scoliosis and larger social problems of the Judy Blume novels.
I'm also grateful to her for exploring ordinary lives and showing that they matter too. She opened the door to all of us who want to do the same: to explore the ordinary and through that exploration, to show the universal.
My mother-in-law would not live 100 years. She died on this day in 2005, after a long and difficult several months of medical spiraling, down and down, after a broken hip at the end of 2004. Every time I thought her ordeal couldn't get any worse, it did. I have always been phobic of doctors and hospitals, since childhood when a shot went wrong with a broken needle (my mother tells me; mercifully, I have no memory). Her experience did not convince me that my fears are misplaced--just the opposite.
It's sobering to realize how many deaths begin in a fall and a hip break. One of my mother-in-law's doctors said, "We come into the world through the birth canal, and we often leave it through the femoral neck." It's those hips that hold us when we're in the womb, but it's those same hips that leave us vulnerable as older people. Half the people who have a hip break will be dead a year later--and those who survive don't face good odds for survival in the next 5 years.
It's that knowledge that gets me to the gym multiple times a week. I no longer hope for a dress size in the single digits. No, I want to improve upon my flexibility and strength. I want to strengthen my muscles, including that all important heart muscle. Happily, through this training process, I am more likely to find success in those areas than I was likely to find success in shrinking myself into a single digit dress size.
I have known too many people, including my mother-in-law, who assumed that they would die long before the age of 100 because their parents had died at a relatively young age. And then they are surprised to find out that they aren't dead. I've also known too many people who have bad habits that ensure that they will die well before the age of 100.
I want Beverly Cleary's old age, where she only suffers a bit of arthritis and no other health issues. I don't want the old age that so many of us seem doomed to suffer.
I am also aware of the futility of trying to avoid death. We must live with the knowledge of impending obliteration, while also trying to age with grace and find comfort in the face of certain doom.
I have some recent publications that deal with these juxtapositions. The "Lucky Charms" section of Escape into Life has 2 of my poems that show some coping methods, and yesterday, my poem "Season of Ash and Penitence" was published here on the Hawai'i Pacific Review site. That poem moves through Ash Wednesday as it looks at the ways we deal with the knowledge of our mortality.
On this day of interesting anniversary juxtapositions, let me close on a happy-ish note. Here's the last line of "Praying the Breviary at 30,000 Feet," found in the "Lucky Charms" section of Escape into Life:
I pray the ancient patterns,
perceptions shifting like the view.
I let the language form
my mind into a calmer landscape.
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