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Sunday, February 07, 2016

Still waiting for some kind of response from inner Betty about that dire diagnosis ...

... still nothing.

I assumed for a few days that the prognosis of the onset of irreversible blindness was so devastating that I'm in a state of denial, and, that at some point the ominous dark clouds will gather and I'll be engulfed by a deep depression.  Maybe.  But I've lived with the news for 3 weeks now, and nothing ... .

I did speak with my eldest son, Bob, and with our superintendent -- in the interest of full disclosure.   We even laughed at my bad Boston Marathon with the guide dog joke!  If this is cause for retirement soon, my colleagues need to know.  Neither was particularly alarmed, but took the news in stride.  I was assured that my work will go on for as long as I want or need it to.   There's a full calendar of events to take me through 'til summer, at least.  I see no need to contemplate retiring any time soon, or ever -- for that matter.  Maybe I'll just go from the park to the cemetery (crazy?).

It was after speaking with them that I wondered why I'd not hesitated blogging about it last week.  Was that wise?  Should I have not done so?  Being a public person now, this might be cause for sensationalizing.   Would never have written about it on Facebook, but my blog is my private personal space, and I didn't hesitate for one minute.  This is where I sit in the lamplight in my pajamas and bunny slippers at day's end, and process life.  Family and friends remain my perceived audience, but there's more awareness of others in the mix now, but they remain "virtual."  There's a growing suspicion that my only real audience is myself. 

After thinking it over I decided that to have held the news in secret would be giving it too much power over me.  It just isn't that important, I think, but is a part of a naturally-occurring development in the aging process.  There's surely need to deal with the changes that should be anticipated, but there's time to adjust, learn, and to adapt.

All this is barring accidents, of course, one can never count on having that much control over life.

Decided yesterday after running into our city councilman Vinay Pimplé at a reception -- an
accomplished attorney who has probably dealt with blindness over a lifetime, but who has been active in politics of my city for a number of years.  This raises the possibility that this will simply be a new edge to grow from.   Vinay provides such a great example of positive energy well used.

His woman friend and escort stopped me to say that Vinay would love to hear my talk at the Visitor Center and wished to know my schedule.  We'd never met, though I've been watching his work on the council on the public access channel every Tuesday evening, so he didn't feel like a total stranger to me.

I found myself standing very close; at least close enough to place my hand on his arm.  Intuition was operating at full tilt, and I sensed the need to make physical contact.  He didn't recoil at my touch, so it must have been right.  There must be residual knowings that carry over from life with my sightless father in his final years. 

It could be that -- at this point in life -- I'm being affirmed in so many ways -- that the downside is having a difficult time getting through to me.

I'll settle for that, and prepare for a busy and exciting next few months.

Wait'll you hear!   

 



Sunday, January 31, 2016

A long time between posts ... and, frankly, it's puzzling ... .

Last week called to the appointment desk for my 3-month checkup, and in just a day or so drove in to see my physician.  All vital signs "exceptionally good," says he, and further added that he rarely saw patients beyond the age of 50 who didn't require at least some kind of prescriptions.  I am totally med-free.  No high blood pressure, no heart problems, no hearing loss, nothing.  The pride he takes in keeping me alive is evident.  We grin over it each time I show up for my routine visits.  "See you in six months," says he.

After my check up and renewals of pneumonia and tetanus vaccines, I went to the eye clinic to check on the date for cataract surgery on my right eye.  I did notice during the exam that the vision in that eye had deteriorated considerably since last May, and that now the left eye wasn't all that great.  She dilated the pupils, checked the pressure, and completed the exam.

I'd given up night driving some months ago, since noticing that my night vision had become distorted and I no longer have the confidence needed to feel safe changing lanes, or even recognizing off ramps at times.  Something was going awry, obviously.

For the first time, my diagnosis was that -- not only was the surgery necessary to remove the cataracts -- but glaucoma was now present.  Glaucoma is, of course, incurable -- and the cause of blindness.  I will outlive my eyesight.

This was not anticipated though I am aware that my paternal grandmother was someone I knew only as a small child, and at that time she was totally blind.  She died when I was about four.  My father spent his last ten years without sight.  Since they both suffered from diabetes, I'd only associated their blindness with the disease.  I've never suffered from diabetes, so had never connected glaucoma with something to be expected as I entered this past decade.  Not for one minute did I anticipate or fear this diagnosis.

Because I'd received a clean bill of health from my primary physician only an hour before, the image that came up for me was, "... WOW!  I'm fit to sign up for the Boston marathon, but I may have to do it with a guide dog!" 

I drove home with new information that should have been shocking, right?  It wasn't.  Should have caused alarm.  It didn't.  I've lived with it for almost a week now, and find that I'm still waiting for some sort of reaction.  Panic?  Nothing, still.  I've enjoyed excellent health for such a long time that I'm feeling blessed 'til now, and grateful for being alive and able to still be productive into these years.

I know that -- though there is no cure -- there are drugs that may slow the progression.   I will have time to adjust to a new way of living, and that I'm computer savvy and have time to teach myself to use the features available to me.  How different my capacities will be than what Dad could call on.  My grandmother could only sit in the rocking chair on the front porch of that house on Lapyrouse Street in New Orleans and hold me close while my mother did the housekeeping and prepared meals for the family.  My memories of her are that of a 3 year-old sitting in her lap endlessly brushing her waist-length dark hair and fondling the buttery-soft flesh of her upper underarm while falling asleep ... and being much-loved.  Maybe that's why the thought of blindness is not more frightening. 

My father left a great model for me.  I remember being awed by his ability to use what capacities he retained into the sightless years.  He knew that that little line from the top joint on his thumb to the tip measured exactly one inch.  I often watched him, fascinated, busily doing home repairs using his thumb to measure as he went along.  What he could have done if he'd lived into the kind of technology that I  have access to!  He'd been a builder all his life, and a proud one.  Blindness required some adjustments, but he lived into his mid-nineties with little complaint.

Not sure how quickly this will progress, but one thing is certain; I'm about to enter still another cycle of life with new challenges.  I'm also aware that this means that how I handle this may well determine how well my children and theirs, my nieces and nephews, will deal with this potential in their lives.  My work as mother may not be over yet; that part of parenting that influences the lives of the next generation.  And, of course, this may be something that they needn't worry about, or, by the time they reach these years a cure will have been discovered.  Medical research is moving so fast; look at the advances between my father's days and mine.

None of this is immediate.  There will be plenty of time to adjust, and if this past week is any indication, I'm still a long way from either realizing what this means, or, figuring out why it is that I'm not more disturbed by the prospect ... .

Tomorrow I will take the first steps:

I'll talk with my sons and my colleagues.  I suspect that this will be harder for those around me than it (apparently) is for me.

No plans to retire.  Nothing will change, unless ordered by wiser heads.  I'm still in unbelievably good health, and don't anticipate any major problems in the foreseeable future.   Cataract surgery will occur sometime in April, at which time there can be a more accurate assessment of just how much and how fast the glaucoma is progressing and how to plan for the necessary life adjustments.  This involves an out-patient pain-free 15-minute surgical procedure, with a relatively fast recovery.

I'm committed to giving the keynote address for the annual Rosie the Riveter Trust banquet on April 9th, and the surgery will not interfere, but will be scheduled for the following week, or later. 

I need to make some changes to my bucket list, maybe, but that's about it, I think.   Maybe I'll need to plan to see Hamilton in New York; a luxury worth saving up for.  A national tour is not slated until 2017, and that could be too late. Meanwhile, I'm planning to take Dorian to Yosemite for another look at Half Dome and Bridal Falls -- which should be amazing this El Nino year.  That trip will come in early April.
 
Meanwhile, move along folks, nothing to see here ... .


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

This was my moment of all moments ... .

Photo by Martha Lee
The crescendo of my Symphony of Life.   The Reckoning.  What all the decades, weeks, years, days, and hours were ever leading toward in often tiny seemingly meaningless fragments of Time.

Recognition and exultation unequalled!

One might well wonder (in the quiet moments) at the worthiness of it all? After all, none of the many elements that led to this miracle appeared exceptional at the time, except giving life to my children ... .

Maybe it was all just too over-the-top to absorb except in small increments when my breathing would get caught up somewhere in my throat, and hesitate just a fraction of a second between heartbeats.

This happened some weeks ago now, but each time a member of my audiences asks what this felt like -- it all comes back refreshed and as exciting as before -- and there's a flood of unexpressed emotion that rises to consciousness and I'm overwhelmed by yet unshed tears of wonder and humility at how little it must take to catch the Sun if I'm seen as worthy of this miraculous moment in Time.

And why did it take 94 years to find my footprints upon the earth -- and to stand tall in them?

... and I didn't realize that I could cast such a great shadow!




Sunday, January 17, 2016

The next months hold promises of new adventures ... .

... not the least of which is that I will be experiencing my first SKYPE session.  Been invited to interact with Ohio's Wilberforce University students -- the oldest black private college in the country -- which means that I will be live on video from our conference room at National Park Service headquarters in the Richmond Civic Center -- and they will be participating in some gathering place on campus.  I'm told that there could be up to 90 students from 3 combined classes.  It will probably not be a formal presentation, but a Q&A covering my work and their interests, though the details have yet to be worked out.  Have no idea what to expect, but I'm up for it, and can't imagine being cowed by the distance.  Technology will take care of that, I'm certain.  What a time to be alive ... .

I'm certain that as long as there are "first times" still happening, that life is still unfolding -- and who could possibly ask for more in one's final decade?

There is another program being done in the same way -- this time for the Annual Philadelphia Flower Show in March -- where the expected visitation is 200,000 (surely not all at the same time), but since I've never been to Philadelphia -- and will have the experience of Wilberforce to fall back on by that time -- pretty exciting, right?  Maybe this will be what the future will be like, with fewer trips to faraway places, and more opportunities to extend the boundaries of our park through technology.  Interesting?

My schedule of programs and audiences have increased from 3/wk to 5 at times, and thus far it doesn't appear to be adding to feelings of stress, but I'm mindful of the potential for that happening -- as are those around me.  I do feel supported and protected by staff and my co-workers -- and that's a blessing.  After all, these golden years can easily be reduced to pot metal if we aren't careful .. .  For that reason if for no other, it's probably wise that these televised sessions are being introduced.  I suspect that this will add to my ability to continue the work -- at least a bit longer.



Friday, January 15, 2016

Frustration of the highest sort ... .
Feels a bit like Dorothy's words to Toto!

Received electronic copies of photos from the White House today, of Tamaya, Alyana, and their grandmother with the First Lady Michelle and President Obama from our trip to the National Tree-Lighting Ceremony in December.  Only problem is that their arrival carried specific prohibitions as to their use.  "Cannot be used for any purpose beyond personal.  Cannot be posted to Betty's blog, nor, find their way onto Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.,."  In other words, only those lucky enough to see them on my living-room wall next to the framed invitation to his 2009 Inauguration -- will ever know they exist; except in my fertile imagination.  I'll have mine mounted and framed right away, then invite my family to a hanging ceremony improvised for the occasion.

Trust me.  It was real, and I'm still vibrating from the experience.

Can you imagine how hard it will be to resist the temptation?  But, of course, there's no question that those instructions will be followed faithfully.  In time it won't matter, but this minute it's a very hard thing to deal with.  Half the satisfaction of owning such a treasure is the sharing of it with family and friends ... and the definition of "friends" has been altered beyond recognition by social media.  Wonder if the White House has taken that into account?  Of course, they have.

Wonder if those limitations will extend beyond the Obama's term of office?  Will the prohibitions still stand after November, or the inauguration of their successors in January of 2017?  That might be a great question to ask at some point. 

You can imagine how difficult this will be for my granddaughters!  They will probably have a much harder time of it, I think, but then most of their life experiences are probably well-documented on their smart phones.   But, of course these precious pictures can and will be shared privately by the kids, as ordered.

But, oh how I wish ... .





Sunday, January 03, 2016


I'm back ...!!!

In a much shorter time than might have been anticipated, total recovery appears to be at hand.

Not certain how to explain it, except to say that within the first hour of my work day, yesterday, the chance to talk about the disaster of my last theater talk came within the first hour.  Together, about 3 friends and I  huddled around a small space heater, knee-to-knee, at the front desk before the arrival of the day's first visitors to try to analyze what had happened that had upended my sense of self as an "interpreter" last Tuesday.   This allowed me to talk it through.

 "Fear, itself" was threatening my sense of security before growing audiences that resulted from the new public exposure of the PBS national tree-lighting specials repeated several times over the holidays. 

Apparently, this was all that was needed to begin to regain the confidence in my work because two 1-hour talks that included a 15-minute film separated by a 1-hour break went off as smoothly as it had before that trip up the Yellow Brick Road.  Taking control of my space; sitting at the front of our little theater on my plain wooden stool as visitors filed into the little theater, played an important role (as I'd suspected it might), and I was completely in control again.

And, yes, it was that simple.

The small theater was filled to capacity twice, and it was magical -- as before.  Adding a second presentation eliminated the pressure of a lobby filled with lines of ticket-seekers which had resulted in disappointed people being turned away from that less than successful event of last week.  The pressure had simply not been allowed to build; pressure that I'd apparently picked up at some subliminal level that may have caused the disconcerting sense of the loss of control.
African American Museum under construction

I'm a very good Betty, but not a particularly good celebrity, I think.  That may take skills that I don't come by naturally; skills that I just don't have the time, the patience, or even the wish to develop.

That may be only for the young and ambitious, and neither applies to me.

Lately I've come to view myself less as an Interpreter than as a Griot, the legendary carrier of the oral histories of African peoples.  Somehow that puts the emphasis on what my work consists of as I define it to be -- and less as an outer-defined discipline/career path with specific learned practices, procedures, and goals.

It's as a Griot that I'm effective, and only I can recognize when and if I'm being successful in the role. This ancient tradition may have been transformed into something now called Interpretation -- and  today will be recognized as such in the world of the National Park Service.

My generation is centuries beyond the traditions and cultures of the Continent of Africa.  Why I would so strongly identify with that history defies any reasonable explanation.  That the strength of those influences would overwhelm my completely western upbringing may well be a testament to the power of the ancient ways of humanity.

But it suffices to say that I'm now comfortable in my own skin again, and all things Griot have returned as before, and the magic is again at hand.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Spent the morning watching the Rose Parade and wondering what 2016 can hold that can possibly match the drama of 2015, at least when viewed from the standpoint of one small life ... ?  

Pageantry and Pomp are alive and well, but lurking in the background of the gaiety is a new level of fear and national anguish over terrorism and what appears to be the beginnings of a new form of warfare for which none of our defensive armaments is being effective.

The old Fascism, newly-disguised as a less harmful Narcissism, is becoming more evident with each day, and it's hiding within a kind of super-religiosity born of zealots of many Eastern and Western faiths practicing a dangerous extremism that threatens us all.

Much of it appears to be long-ignored responses to Colonialism that continues under new guises, but that can probably be traced back to paternalistic dominance over thousands of years of what we've accepted as "Civilization," but which is now being rightfully questioned by much of the developing world.

I'm not at all certain that it won't be a relief to expect to take my place among the missing -- not too far into the future.  Mortality is less frightening now than when I was much younger.  Can't imagine non-existence.  Maybe that fact alone provides a buffer against fear. But -- nonetheless -- it is now a natural expectation after a life that feels relatively fulfilled.

It surely isn't that the world hasn't been under great threat over past millenia, but the planetary dangers now evident will need far wiser generations than mine in order to survive into another century.  On the other hand, the current generation has developed technological answers that mine could never have imagined.  Today's science may hold many of the answers that the planet must have in order to save the world as we know it, for all its inhabitants.

It begins to appear that overcoming human selfishness and greed may prove to be an even greater challenge than ISIS.

Nature may not be looking into a finite future after all. The scientists may yet be capable of borrowing time through new discoveries about the nature of the evolving Universe.  But it will be a race against Time, and Time waits for no man or woman.


Will Life continue to unfold in totally unanticipated ways, or, will mine settle into a more predictable and reasonably sane tomorrow?  And -- is that what I really want to see?  I think not.  Having lived my entire life in a constant state of surprise, why on earth would I want anything else in these  declining years?

Hope the top of the crescendo has not been what this year brought ... .

... but then, there's always tomorrow ... .

 

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