Monday, December 24, 2012

A gardening challenge I finally met this year

For years I’ve tried to have flowers blooming without interruption all year long—a real challenge in Philadelphia. This means perennials, flowering shrubs and bulbs. A clump of winter pansies doesn’t count—that’s too easy.

Well this year I finally achieved my goal. I had a few roses blooming in late December which overlapped with my snowdrops emerging the third week in December. The roses are gone today, but the snow drops will persist through January.

In the past we always had a hard frost sometime in late November /early December and the snow drops usually did not come up until early January so I did not have that period of overlap.

Maybe I should not be celebrating as this is probably connected to the scary prospect of climate change, but in 2012 I finally managed to have continuous bloom throughout the year. And soon I’ll have winter honeysuckle!!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Ed Schwartz,a Remarkable Man, an Enduring Legacy

Last night I attended a memorial service for my friend and neighbor, civic activist Ed Schwartz at the Constitution Center last night. The Center was filled with Philadelphians from all works of life who had come to pay tribute to this remarkable man.

Ed had a major impact on local government and civic life in Philadelphia as a city Councilman, head of the office of Housing and Community Development and Founder of the non-profit, the Institute for the Study of Civic Values. As a friend once said of him, he produces more ideas per minute than anyone I know. When I taught a service learning course at Community College of Philadelphia he was one of my regular guest speakers and always willing to share his ideas and expertise with my students. Over the years quite a few of my students volunteered at the Institute and parlayed that experience into o a career in non-profits.

I loved talking to him about local politics. For many years he lived in the East Mt. Airy division where I serve as a committeeperson and I always looked forward to talking to him on Election Day. We agreed on issues and core values but often disagreed as to which candidate could best advance those values. I remember a few shouting matches on Election Day about a particular mayoral candidate about whom we strongly disagreed. But whatever the discussion, I always came away from the conversation with a new idea or new perspective.

When he moved--like a typical Philadelphian he moved just a few blocks away--he was in a different voting division and I missed those Election Day conversations. A few years later, I learned to my shock that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. This was really hard to take in—someone with his mind, his ability to think, to write, to argue, to engage with the world—losing that ability to engage.

Luckily for Ed, the strong support network provided by his wife Jane arrested the progress of the disease and by all reports in the last year of his life he was getting better--raising some questions about the diagnosis. At our New Year’s party last year I had a conversation with him about local politics and he was clearly keeping up with the political landscape. The last time I saw him was at his daughter Ruth’s graduation party last May and he was obviously very proud of her and enjoying the party. He may not have been his old self, but he certainly did not seem like someone suffering from Alzheimer’s.

His wife Jane reported that he was attending city council sessions regularly and was playing again with a group of friends who had formed a band, the Reading Terminals. (Among his many accomplishments he was a very good pianist.) It looked like Ed was beginning to regain a life, maybe not the old one, but a meaningful life nonetheless. On November 29, he died of a heart attack. Sadly, just as he appeared to be regaining his life, he lost it. But it was clear from the testimony last night that his legacy lives.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Growing Old On My Terms

Growing Old On My Terms By Margaret Guthrie, Cross-posted from Metropolis

One of the things that happens when you pass 75 -- and I am not talking about speed limits here -- is that you realize you could drop dead at any time. Dropping dead at any moment becomes much more real than it was at 30 or at 50 or even in your sixties and early 70s. As Dustin Hoffman once said, "The end is definitely in sight." As you pass through life, you might give occasional thought to your removal from the planet, to your participation in the recycling of all physical substance, but it doesn't occupy the forefront of your thoughts. The trick, when you're officially elderly, is to not let it occupy the forefront now.

Society doesn't help. Television is full of ads designed to scare old people into doing things that might not be in their best interest. For instance, there are those over-55 communities, which are basically beached cruise ships for the elderly. These places are full of organized activities like arts and crafts and high-school shop for the elderly and dining with 70 or so of your best friends, all of you basically ghetto-ized and awaiting the grim reaper, while you play bridge. Frankly, the idea of learning all over again how to make a magazine rack or napkin holder doesn't appeal to me. Plus, as I understand it, they have rules, like having to get permission to have your grandchildren visit you because they're under 55 years of age. Really?

I live on a block that has two young residents under the age of one, and a gentleman across the street from me who is in his 80s, lives alone, drives his own car and seems to be in fine shape. I believe he still plays the organ at his church on Sundays. There is a young woman next door to me in her junior year at St. Joseph's University, and next door to her is a young woman in her last year at Girls High whose sights are set on Howard University. Various parents, grandparents and others of all ages also live on my block. It's a microcosm of life in the city, and I would not miss it for all the "security" of living in a community where everything is taken care of for me. Sure, I have to rake leaves, shovel snow and haul the recycling out to the curb, but that keeps me moving. One thing you do learn about being old is how important it is to keep moving.

And then there are the ads for various drugs designed to ease or erase the physical effects of aging. The list of side effects can be nothing short of terrifying. I don't now and have never regarded either tuberculosis or death as a side effect. At this moment there is an epidemic of fungal meningitis loose among us, the result of careless manufacture of a steroid injection designed to ease back pain and related ills, as I understand it from the media. Is our medical system really out to help us, or is their only purpose their own enrichment at the possible expense of our lives? My own doctor told me it's his goal to keep me out of the hospital; I assured him it's a goal we share. My ultimate goal in this particular part of my life is to just go to sleep one night and not wake up -- but not for a while, please.

If my knees hurt, I'm supposed to let a surgeon who specializes in such things remove my knees and replace them with some mechanical device attached to the bones in my leg. No thank you. I would like to go into the recycling bin with as much of my own parts as I possibly can. I already have enough bridges in my mouth to make me competitive with Manhattan, and several years ago I had cataract surgery to replace the lenses of both eyes. I would like very much to hang onto the rest of me, as I figure at a maximum I have another 15 years. The more of actual me there is, the more I can enjoy the time that is left.