Monday, March 27, 2017

Today Is My Birthday: Lessons on the Tens

I was born on March 27, 1945. This year I will be 72! Following is an essay, in a different form, which was first published in 1995 when I was 50 years old and has been added to a number of times as each new “ten-year insight” arrived.

Every decade I seem to come up with a realization of life ... at least life as it appears and applies to me. While the realization itself may not be a new concept, suddenly it “makes sense” to me in a way that the mere words might not have in the past. 

As one ages, there does seem to be an unspoken age restriction. As I have gotten older, I have had to work harder to stay in the flow, so to speak, and to believe that I can accomplish whatever I put my mind to.

Change becomes more difficult because one has more to lose (potentially) and with greater risk. One feels less resilient, less flexible, more attached to routine and habit. I watched this in my parents, thought them the fools, but have gradually seen the same in me, the bigger fool!

I have also calmed down, discovered and like who I am, have belief systems, have faith in my abilities to deal with the ups and downs of being alive. I have had my failures and poor health. I have had my successes and excellent health. 

I have accomplished a lot, been good to others, and live a good life. I am grateful to those in my life and to those who have passed through and on beyond my life.

I have added the 10's, 20',s and 30's in retrospect.  During my 10th (1955) and 20th (1965) year, I was too young to do much introspection. During my 30th (1975,) like most young adults, I did not think much of the future as in my mind I was immortal, never would die, didn’t even need life insurance!

The ’40s (1985) shared its message but I did not write about it until I turned 50, realizing that there would be a chain, if I was fortunate, of awarenesses and that I should set them down

The '50s, ’60s, and '70s lessons happened and were essayed in real-time. The "life lessons" just seemed to dictate themselves to me as I wrote.

1955-Retrospective lesson at 10: I hate! 

I hate school. I hate my classmates. I hate my parents. I hate my life. Men turn me on but I do not understand this (and there are no role models to help.)

1965-Retrospective lesson at 20: Who am I anyway?

When will puberty hit? I am still waiting. Who am I anyway? I do not know what I think, I do not know what I believe, I do not know who I am. I love college but hate studying and tests. I am still attracted to Men, there are very few role models, but I know how to hook up!

1975-Retrospective lesson at 30: I do NOT hate and I am who I am!

Finally graduated from college, love teaching, love my life as an adult. My "growing up late or mid-life crisis early" expressed itself as I quit teaching and ran away to Mexico. I have worked at discovering myself. 

I am comfortable with my sexuality. Understand now that I am a homosexual, better known as “Gay.” I have found Men! I had my first love relationship with a man named Robert, which lasted for 13 years followed by meeting my soul mate and best friend and husband, Gregory, for a relationship that would last for 41 years!

Real-time lesson at 40 in 1985 but not committed to writing until 1995:   Life is linear. Some choices have to be left behind and there is no going back to those intersections. Your entire life is still ahead of you. Use it well!

After a birthday party, my teaching colleagues gave me at lunchtime, I looked more closely than usual at a group photograph of teachers taken many years earlier before I began teaching.

In that photograph there were people I was teaching with now, older than I, who had just begun their career many years ago as a young man or woman, there were pictures of people I used to teach with who now were dead. 

There were some pictures of colleagues who, like me, were forty or forty-something. Of course there were no “twenty-something” new teachers included in these photos because they were still at their studies at university. I realized that as life goes on, one cannot go back. Life is linear and it usually goes forward

1995-Real time lesson at 50:  Life has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Most of your life is still ahead of you. Use it well! 

With this realization came the idea that life had choices left behind. I still was a person with strong ideals. I still had great wishes, hopes, and aspirations. I still believed that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. But I realized that having come forward (in a linear fashion) I had left behind some choices on the road of life.

I could not “go back” and take those roads anymore. They were too far behind. For example, at 50 I would no longer be able to run away to New York to become a young ingénue actor or dancer (although certainly, I could still be an actor and maybe a dancer.) I would no longer be able to experience my early days in college and make choices regarding my future (although certainly, I could still make many decisions regarding what I wanted to do with my life.) I would no longer be able to share stories with my Gramma Lindenbaum who had died many years before (although certainly I  could still hold her in my heart and talk to her in my memory.)

2005-Real time lesson at 60: In life, there is here and there is the here-after. So live for the here and try not to worry too much about the here-after. A lot of life is still ahead of you. Use it well!

This was a hard decade. My friend Marla was sick and dying of cancer. My father had been ill and died a few weeks before my birthday. I had problems of my own at home including Lymphoma and a year lost to Chemo Therapy. A few years later and we would receive Gregory's diagnosis of Dementia, most likely Alzheimer's Disease.

While I still considered myself young, my body did not always cooperate. Once I could push a table until it moved, now I would push it until my arm or back gave out. While I still considered myself young, I wondered what 70 would feel like, and 80? And those 20 years certainly would feel different than 20 to 40 or even 30 to 50. Death certainly became a bigger player in my life, that of others and the impending one of my own.

Meanwhile, life is good. I consider myself fortunate in my friends, my family, and in Gregory (now 30 years together and counting.) I am fortunate in the choices I have made in the past, will be fortunate in the choices I still have to make in the future.

And now as I approach my 70th birthday on March 27, 2015, here is my Life Lesson on the Tens for turning Seventy! I could be humorous and say the lesson is looking in the mirror and saying, "How in the FUCK did this happen? Who is this old man?” but last night I did get an insight into my lesson for the 70'S.

2015-Real time lesson at 70: If there are things you want to accomplish in life, it is now or never. No more "When I get to it." or "When other things are in place." or "Maybe someday." It is NOW or NEVER! There is still life to be lived ahead of you. Use it well!

I am closer to the hereafter than I am to the here. While the lesson may seem negative, the unstated part of the message is, "Live and love, for today because it is all you really have!” 

Many things have occurred to which I hadn’t given much thought between my 60’s and 70’s. My mother died on my birthday, March 27, 2005, when I was 60. I consider it a blessing that she began her next journey on the day she helped me begin mine! My beloved kitty, Mariah, also died when I was 65 and she joins my other kitties, Broadway and Hoover, and countless dogs in the hereafter. 

Gregory’s descent into dementia slowly took its toll through my 60’s and he died October 4, 2015, when I was 70 plus 7 months, 12 years after his diagnosis with dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s Disease. 

With great love, there is great grief. So it is with my grief at Gregory’s passing and the 12 years grieving the losses we experienced during his 12 years living with dementia. While I miss him so, I have had to question the meaning of life and death, and have been able to create a new physicality with which to relate to Gregory … I came out the other side a better person so aware of the many gifts I have and have been given during my life by the people around me, especially Gregory!

Throughout his decline, we developed new ways of communicating and relating and our love continued to grow even greater and was more pure for being totally unqualified. We both did the best we could, for the most part, did it gracefully, and we were definitely NOT victims of Alzheimer’s but rather heros!

The legacy (Gregory and) I have been able to establish as a way of “giving back” include: Michael’s Museum: A Curious Collection of Tiny Treasures, a permanent exhibit at Chicago Children’s Museum on Navy Pier; the MORE THAN EVER EDUCATION FUND providing educational opportunities and scholarships to greater Chicago area youth confronting homelessness and administered by the primer not-for-profit organization La Casa Norte; “Alzheimer’s: A Love Story,” a documentary following Gregory and me during the last few weeks of his life, done by the son of Gregory’s best college friend, Gabe Schimmel which has gone on to be accepted by over 75 film festivals across the U.S. and around the world, and winner of over 35 audience and jury awards, including two best of show awards from the Cannes Film Festival! 

Yet to come during my 70’s are desires to get my memoirs published: GYROSCOPE: An Alzheimer’s Love Story.

I also hope to  create “Alzheimer’s: The Musical,” (you may laugh at the title. Many have.) This Broadway musical would cover Gregory and my love story, our journey with Alzheimer’s, as well as the milestones in the history of Gay Liberation. 

I have written a dozen manuscripts of children’s picture books which I would love to get published, want to add a number of collections to Michael’s Museum working with Chicago Children’s Museum, would love to study the volumes of Gregory’s fiction writing and get some of that published posthumously, and would love to document his life and work as an architect. I also hope to continue traveling the world, being with family and friends, enjoying my kitties, loving my condo in Evanston, and wondering what else might come up! 

Today is all you really have and I intend to live well until I die!


  1. Thanks Susan. Nothing belated about it. Every day is a new birth day! Appreciated.


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