May 9, 2013

Why I Blog

None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.
--Henry David Thoreau

That pretty much answers the question of why I blog.

A century ago, life expectancy was still defined by the Biblical three score years and ten. Today, for the first time in human evolution, we have to figure out what to do with an extra 20 years of relatively active life.

I mentioned a few days ago that heading my list of good books about aging is Diana Athill's Somewhere Towards the End. But right up there in contention for the top spot is John Lane's The Art of Ageing. (I just realized that both of these favorite authors are Brits, for whatever that may be worth.) 

Lane says he wrote his book in the belief that, as poet T.S. Eliot urged us to remember, "Old men ought to be explorers / Here or there does not matter." Lane continues:
I take this to include old women. I also take it that Eliot is urging us to make the most of our remaining years, years not infrequently impeded by ill health. That is to say, to follow curiosity, to be creative and contribute to the society into which we have been born.
A MacArthur Foundation Study of Successful Aging found that 80 percent of older Americans agreed that "life is not worth living if one cannot contribute to the welfare of others." Looking around, I find that most of my contemporaries are doing just that. Many are involved in tutoring young school children or working with them in other ways. Others are contributing in a wide variety of ways: visiting bedridden friends, taking elderly neighbors to doctors' appointments, raising funds for the parish church, serving on the boards of charities. 

My personal quirks closed off a lot of those avenues for contributing. I'm not good with young children. I resolved when I retired in 1995 that I'd never get involved in anything that required attending meetings. . . one of the few resolutions I've had no trouble keeping.

My Search for Meaning
Working with adults one-on-one was better suited to me. So, one of my initial involvements was with a local group that provided companions for individuals facing a terminal illness. I had two clients, one of whom died within six months. But the other kept on going for several years and was an interesting challenge, a fascinating and amusing wheelchair-bound woman who could also be maddening at times.

I have a clear memory of pushing her around a black-tie reception at the Corcoran Art Gallery to introduce a book of writings from people at a homeless shelter where my friend hung out. Tipper Gore had contributed photos for the book, so lots of dignitaries were present. My friend had us weaving in and out of the crowd, constantly squeezing the rubber dog on the wheelchair handlebar that emitted a loud "bark" as jarring as a tractor trailer horn. Fortunately, I hadn't known it was a black-tie affair, so my casual attire made me look like a nursing home aide.

Difficult as she could be, I liked working with her, but my desire to contribute wasn't really satisfied. Then in March of 2001, I made my first trip to Nepal. I fell in love with the country and its people. For the rest of the decade, I made over a dozen trips there and found lots of opportunity to work with Nepalis who became my friends and family.

That time was very rewarding. Thailand is known as "The Land of Smiles." But, even though Nepal is a much poorer country, its people have even broader smiles and a genuine love of life I've not found anywhere else.

I "adopted" a young family in Pokhara, a beautiful city situated on a lake surrounded by snowcapped mountains. Living there for weeks at a time -- and truly feeling like part of their extended family -- was an experience I'll always treasure.

I tried for years to secure a green card for the husband and finally succeeded. He was able to come to the U.S. in early 2009. I had also gotten to know a family in Kathmandu. When their son came to the U.S. for college, we became good friends. He ended up staying in my house when he relocated to Washington to get his MBA at American University.

In March 2012, my Nepal focus shifted from Kathmandu and Pokhara to Washington, DC. I returned to Nepal last March for the wedding of my Kathmandu housemate, and he and his wife have been living with me since last April. When I returned to DC from the wedding, the wife and son of my Pokhara family were on the same flight, so that family is now reunited here in Washington.

Parkinson's Closes a Door and Opens a Window
Even without these geographic shifts of my two Nepali families to Washington, my decade of living part-time in Nepal would have come to an end with my diagnosis of Parkinson's disease in September, 2009. My Nepali decade had been ideal for me. I'm addicted to trying new and different things, and living in Nepal filled the bill. I recognized long ago that I prefer working one-on-one with people I know to dealing with organized charities. My Nepali connections enabled me to do just that.

Parkinson's closed the living-in-Nepal door. So, what could I do now that would let me experience something new and different. . . and at the same time provide an opportunity to work with others one-on-one?

No drum roll needed. This blog was an easy answer.

Actually, the events I've described aren't exactly what motivated me to begin this blog. I started it because I thought I'd discovered a magical pill that would help everyone with Parkinson's deal with some of its worst side effects. I'd found that the over-the-counter supplement 5-HTP, a serotonin-booster, effectively dealt with the depression, insomnia and constipation that had accompanied my Parkinson's. I was ready to sound the trumpets and have Parkinsonians worldwide thanking me for enriching their lives. So I started a blog I titled "5-HTP and Parkinson's." 

I soon found that no one else who tried 5-HTP experienced the same benefits I had. (Later, I also learned that 5-HTP presented some problems for me as well.) But I was enjoying the blog. I also realized how difficult it was to decide whether my various new afflictions were a result of my Parkinson's or just part of aging. So I broadened the blog's scope and changed the title to "Aging and Parkinson's and Me."

And so it continues. My concept of the blog is evolving, which keeps me interested. The feedback and comments I get (though I'd like to see more) satisfy my need for one-on-one involvement.

I do worry about maintaining a proper balance between writing about my life and living my life. I worry that I spend too much time at the keyboard. But that struggle to find the middle of the road has been the story of my life as I careen back and forth, from one side to the other.

So I'll end with this profound thought:

The cause of death is birth, and on your way there 
you might want to enjoy things
--David Hockney

1 comment:

Loene said...

Hi John, Love the Hockney quote. Love your attitude and spirit! Tomorrow is my second memorial service in two weeks for members of my cancer support group, LIving Beyond Limits. One was not yet 50, with two pre-teen children, and the other barely 40, who had suffered through severe treatment side effects for more than a decade, both lovely women, generous and compassionate. In the midst of terrible pain and suffering, both found ways to enjoy their lives, to smile and even laugh out loud. They didn't give up, and neither do you. We all need such inspiration, and I send thanks that you are willing to share your life and thoughts with us -- Loene --