A Little Self-Pity Doesn’t Hurt……

Serious content alert. Two friends, one older, and one considerably younger, just suffered injuries that turned out to be related to previously undetected medical conditions. For the older individual, it is in large part a reality of aging that things will happen. For the younger one, tests are still underway.

In each case, there is an inclination for the response to be, “Well, it could be worse.” A correct statement, especially if you spend any time in a medical facility where bodies are shattered or struggling with terminal diagnosis. On the other hand, the younger one’s current career is impacted, and may very well require a change of career. For the older one, there is the high probability of no longer being able to live independently and perhaps not even remaining at home with assistance. In both cases, the events occurred with no warning, no time to emotionally prepare. These are life-impacting situations and a certain amount of “Why me?” is a natural reaction. It is a loss; the degree of which is still unknown. All serious loss, no matter the focus, can be tied to the Five Stages of Grief described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler in their famous book.

I’m not going into the complexity of these stages which are too often over-simplified, however, the need to cope with grief is sound. It is part of life few can avoid and anger in lashing out or wanting to scream closely followed by the desire to curl up and whimper are to be expected. (Yes, in some cultures, stoicism is greatly valued. That’s not the subject here.) There is nothing intrinsically wrong with spending an amount of time in self-pity.  As with much else in life, moderation is important, but even more so is the notion you should, “Just get over it already”, as can be carelessly tossed out. There are losses one does “get over”, and may well ironically fall into the category of clouds with silver linings and other applicable cliches. In other cases, though, it is adjusting to  (okay, acceptance of) the change, but a factor in this process is the “progress” is usually not linear. It can easily be steps forward, back, maybe a bit sideways. When dealing with whatever loss, you can be going along and then, “Zap!” it sneaks back in. When that happens, another round of self-pity isn’t going to hurt. You may want to cope with it on your own or reach out for support.  I hope anyone reading this has friends/relatives who can provide that support. And yes, the “friend” can be furry or perhaps something less conventional such as a special place in which to re-center.






How I Learned About Internal Combustion Engines…..

The saying of, “You don’t always get what you want, but you might get what you need”, is probably true for most people. As has been happening of late, certain conversations trigger memories of my Army days. In the short version, I joined the Army in order to afford law school. The fact that didn’t happen is a very different post that I’ll do at some point in the future.

Anyway, I actually came into the Army through a special program because contrary to popular belief, women could not enter as officers through either ROTC or the military academies until 1976. I was commissioned into the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in the waning years before they officially disbanded that. Part of the disbanding was to no longer have all women assigned to WAC units, but rather have them go into the various branches of the Army, most of which were open to women. Through a series of misunderstanding on my part (also another future post), I found myself in a situation where I didn’t know which branch to ask for and the Ordnance Corps decided they wanted to increase the number of women being brought in. They sent a couple of majors to Fort McClellan to explain to all of us why we ought to request being in Ordnance. Now, there are essentially two major areas within Ordnance. The original, as the name implies, is Ordnance as in ammunition. The other is maintenance which gained far greater prominence once there were things like vehicles. To say I was not mechanically minded is an understatement and so when I was assured by the two majors that Ordnance really was the branch we ladies ought to join I agreed and thought, “Okay, how hard can it be to learn about munitions?”

A not particularly important event occurred and I was later strongly advised to swap from my idea to instead go into the maintenance side. I very carefully explained my genuine concern about my ability to learn about maintenance. I was again assured the fact I didn’t know anything didn’t mean I couldn’t learn what I needed to. As an officer, I would not be actually working on vehicles (to include things such as tanks). The mechanical training we would receive was to enable us to understand the basics so we could understand what it was the fully qualified mechanics (enlisted and warrant officers) were doing. In other words, we had to know just enough to be able to say, “Bull___” if someone wasn’t doing their job. I reluctantly agreed and in the initial stages of my training, my concerns seemed justified. Several of us struggled and failed tests because we really weren’t grasping what pistons, wiring harnesses, hydraulic systems, etc., did. Our instructors were equally struggling because they couldn’t figure out how to get the ideas across any differently.

Our male counterparts stepped in to help. This was when most guys worked on vehicles to some degree or the other. They essentially took those of us who were having difficulty and said, “You’re making this too hard.” Of the two that took me under wing, one was a mechanical engineer and the other highly mechanically inclined as what was referred to as a “shade tree mechanic”. Admittedly, this was back before vehicles became much more complex with electronics and computers. As it turned out, the guys were right. We just needed someone who could take their time with us and phrase things in a way we could grasp. One of the practical exercises we had to complete toward the end of the three-month course was to disassemble and reassemble a jeep engine. Despite the extra tutelage, I certainly wouldn’t have tried to tackle this alone, but we were in teams and I was in fact fully capable of helping and understanding what my guys were doing. Aside from the direct application to my Army career, the same knowledge has been quite useful when dealing with auto repair shops.

One of the Lesser Known Military Units…..

First, I thought I had posted this the other day. Then again, I thought I had previously written about this topic, but apparently it hadn’t made it beyond the idea stage. When we were stationed in Hawaii we knew of a number of smaller, specialized units, one of which is officially named the Joint Task Force–Full Accounting (JTF-FA) and Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CILHI). It is commonly referred to by the acronym of CILHI (pronounced like Sill Hi). Although there are some military personnel assigned and a friend was the commander for a couple of years, the staff is predominantly civilian experts. You can read more details at http://www.vietvet.org/jtffainf.htm but I’ll explain.

A Joint Task Force means all military services are involved and it is especially fitting for JTF Full Accounting. The remains of thousands of American service members are still missing and over the years, sites have been discovered in some pretty remote paces. The term “leave no man behind” has existed for a long time and it extends to the idea of bringing home the bodies of those who have served their country. With advanced forensics and the amazing capabilities of the Laboratory those can be used to either positively identify someone or at least greatly narrow the possibility. For example, if a plane from WW II was last heard from over a certain area in a mountainous region, and the Task Force is notified of wreckage being found in that same region, a team can go in to look. Since airplanes can disintegrate and/or burn upon impact, there may be little left after decades of growth taking hold. The staff intensely studies equipment and uniforms from every era of our military which is why the smallest item or fragment can be used to help with identification. In a case like this, if no human remains are found, they still might be able to identify the aircraft. All sites are handled in a similar manner to an archeological dig and the teams often work in extreme environments such as jungles or mountainous areas.

Information about potential sites come from many sources.  Local stories are frequently passed down about military men who were quickly buried or a crash site that has been overgrown. At other times, an area is being cleared for building or a family member has done research and passes along what they know so the team can consult their database. Several months ago, my husband taught classes to some of the JTF members because they want to have internal capability of accessing underwater sites. He was of course thrilled with the opportunity and the team appreciated the fact he was familiar with their work.

Losing a loved one is never easy. Not knowing where the loved one is adds yet another dimension to the grief. And even though the service member/service members are not returned until sometimes decades later, in almost all cases it is appreciated by the family.

About Valentine’s Day…..

Poignancy Alert! Okay, I will upfront apologize if this brings a pang of hurt to anyone, but there are moments when I do engage in bittersweet emotional content and this is such a moment.

Valentine’s Day can carry a lot of significance whether you agree with that position or not. Back in my single days, I spent about as many Valentine’s Days without anyone special as with someone. And yes, when there was someone, we joined the throngs at the crowded restaurants to pay extra for the special dinner.

So, when Valentine’s Day came around after I was married to my first husband, it happened to be on a Friday. I waited all day for flowers to be delivered to my office. Friday was traditionally big Happy Hour at the Officer’s Club. Since my husband and I were in different units and therefore met at the Club, I thought – ah, he’s bringing the bouquet there. Nope, and not a word to me as we all enjoyed the evening. At some point, I allowed my temper to peek through enough to ask if he’d forgotten what day it was. Of course not, was his reply and drew me a valentine on a bar napkin. As the saying goes, “I was not amused”. The next day I was still pretty P.O.’d and when I returned from errands, there was the lovely bouquet on the dining room table. “How could you think I would actually forget?”, was his question as he did admit he waited too late to call for the florist to be able to deliver on Friday.  I did accept the apology and fast-forward one year.

Most of you who follow the blog know my first husband was killed in an accident when our son was only four months old. It was not long before Valentine’s Day and we were physically separated due to attending different Army schools. I was in Maryland and he was in Virginia. My parents came up from Louisiana and Daddy drove me to Fort Eustis in Newport News for the memorial service and to take some of my husband’s personal stuff before the rest was placed into temporary storage. As I was going through the desk, I found this big beautiful Valentine’s Day card he had bought in plenty of time. You can imagine my intense reaction. That’s been a very long time ago, but it’s one of those memories I suspect will stay with me forever.

Our Dependence on Repairs…..

In my former life of military logistics, with a concentration in maintenance (I’ll explain that in a post someday), I became keenly aware of the vulnerability of mechanical/electrical things. Matched to that was the variance in the ability of individuals trained to repair such items. Pretty well equal was the fact that impatience does not assist in the repair process. However, if the individual/individuals responsible for hiring/retaining repair individuals is not aware of shortcomings, that is something that can be rectified. That statement also comes with a caveat – there must be places that can adequately train individuals and one must also allow for experience as a factor. So, without getting into politics, which I do try to avoid in this blog, we really should do more in this country to recognize and promote repair trades at all levels. I’m not about to say a computer repair technician is exactly the same as a plumber, but when you have that toilet overflowing/stop working, it definitely affects your well-being.

Reliability of items is the other component and those who are old enough have seen the movement toward a “disposable” marketplace. That, too, is really another post and for the sake of this discussion, we’ll stick with the issue of training repair individuals rather than engineers, etc., that design and manufacture things. Anyone who has worked with students knows there are different ways of learning and there is a wonderful quotation from Albert Einstein about labeling genius. It goes something like, “…If you measure the intelligence of a fish by the way it climbs a tree, it will always be seen as stupid.” I don’t dispute the value of a college education, but in watching the absurd, quite frankly inexcusable escalation of college costs, the need for technical training in many areas for those who have the aptitude should get greater focus than it often does. There is a growing awareness in this country and if you have influence on young students in whatever capacity, do be attuned to the possibility that rather than a college path, technical training may be the right option, at least for that first career.

In closing, my posting has been delayed because we experienced network outages for almost six days. Is it a design issue, equipment, or maintenance? I don’t know. What I do know is we, like so many people today, greatly depend on network connectivity and are severely impacted when we don’t have it.

A Sad Point….

Serious content alert. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I weight my post with either cheery or poignant subjects. Today is not one of those days as during the past month there has been a series of unexpected medical issues with some of the older childless couples I know. In these cases, it isn’t only childless; it’s small families with no relatives geographically near. One of the realities of choosing to retire/relocate to somewhere like South Florida is distance. Yes, leaving the cold of the Northeast, Midwest, etc., does mean much better weather (setting aside the problem of hurricanes), but it is also a very long way from family that may not have moved. That tends not to seem important other than the price one often pays for holiday travel. And initially, it probably isn’t important. The issue comes when the cost is less the point than the physical difficulty or inability to travel. Even as we age, our active lives lures us into thinking it will always be this way. After all, we’ve seen people in their 90s on trips, haven’t we? Absolutely, and the very reason we remark is because it is the exception, not the norm. In the more likely scenario of a debilitating illness or injury, it is both the distance of a relative traveling and the life being interrupted. In a case of a temporary situation, it might be manageable. Far greater complications arise if the circumstances call into doubt the ability to remain living alone. With small families, it is also possible the remaining relatives may be equally elderly and/or have medical/financial issues that prevent them from being able to help.

These can be daunting problems and the very reason I wrote Your Room at the End: Thoughts About Aging We’d Rather Avoid. Waiting until the moment of a crisis is not the time to plan for such events. Learning what options are available in your area is strongly advised because there are actually three main factors; 1) available resources such as at-home care, transportation, etc. – not all places are created equal – ; 2) cost; 3) who will manage/advocate the assistance. Let’s use the example of affordable at-home care for help that includes transportation for trips to the grocery store and meal preparation. Someone still has to make the arrangements, manage payment and quite frankly, keep an eye out to make certain services are being provided as believed. If these things are researched before hand, getting them started is a matter of scheduling rather than having to scramble and perhaps not having time to properly vet the individual/company. In other cases, maybe external services aren’t available and instead, a network of friends/neighbors will pitch in. That’s quite possible, but again, these are conversations to develop before the need arises.

The solution of entering an independent or assisted living facility is a separate issue that I’m not going to get into in this post. In fact, there are two couples who have been stalwart volunteers within the community for decades. Both have made the decision to relocate before the year end to be closer to their adult children/younger relatives. As much as I hate to see them go, these are the types of choices we must consider for our later years.

About That Age Thing……

My maternal grandmother was one of those women who never wanted to admit her age. I never quite understood it and I think it may be less of an issue these days, although I’m not certain of that. The group of women friends I have my standing Happy Hour and other events with in general don’t mind telling their age and most of us accept the process philosophically. I think it probably has to do with us have worked in interesting jobs, traveled a fair amount, and enjoyed our youth in the day. We also understand that the 20/30-somethings who see us no doubt can’t imagine they will be like that someday. I haven’t had a “traumatic” birthday yet, but I am sometimes a bit startled in thinking of being 64. I’m obviously close to another “big” number and who knows, the moment could hit when I say, “Goodness, I’m not ready for this.” I think the whole being active for much longer is part of why we don’t view aging in the same way. Granted, I walk and don’t jog any longer, but that has far more to do with the fact I never liked jogging and only did it as a requirement of my Army life. I swapped back to my preferred walking as soon as I was able to.

I’ve also never wanted to bother with coloring my hair and that hasn’t changed. I’m fine with whomever wishes to deal with it, but what a lot of effort it takes! I may have mentioned in a previous post all the women on my mother’s side of the family have fine, straight hair and we “gray” early. I had my first silver hairs around 20. In my case, they were/are silver as opposed to white. My mother, unfortunately, had clusters of white instead of evenly streaked, so her decision to color made a bit more sense. As for wrinkles, again, it just seems too much of a bother to have some multi-part daily regimen to deal with. On the other hand, I have always been careful about moisturizer, especially with 30ish SPF sunscreen living here in South Florida.

Do People Change?…..

Musing thoughts ahead. I had an interesting discussion the other day about whether people change. As I’ve posted in the past, holidays can provide a chance to reach out to family or friends where estrangement might have occurred. It doesn’t necessarily mean you should, but it is a common thought this time of year. For the sake of this post, let us assume you have a strained relationship you want to considering trying to recover. The first question is who made the break? Second question is was the break acknowledged or simply happened and “isn’t talked about”? If an individual isn’t actually aware of the break, addressing it can be rather awkward. On the other hand, that could also mean it’s easier to deal with because the other person might say, “Of course I didn’t mean to hurt/upset you? – or – “No I’m not upset with you – why should I be?”

Moving into the more complicated situation of both parties being well aware of a strain, now comes the, Do People Change? In all seriousness, that depends on what is meant by change. Maturity usually has an impact. Other life experiences can have an impact. The decision to want to change for whatever reason can have an impact. In some cases, a person doesn’t change exactly, but perhaps perspective does and that can make a big difference. In some strained relationships, time elapsing does allow perspective to change and hurt to diminish. And with diminished hurt – healing can follow.

On the deeper level, do I think genuinely mean people change? No. Do I think people who behave in a mean manner can? That’s another perhaps. After all, isn’t that why we enjoy the movie, “A Christmas Carol”?

Not A Holiday Movie….

As much as I love a couple of the holiday movies and have posted about them in the past, the other day, the original “True Grit” was on. It was such a quintessential John Wayne role in his older years and while there are only a few lines I really enjoy, there is one scene in particular I have quoted from for a variety of situations. In the event someone hasn’t seen the movie or it’s been quite some time, a very young Robert Duvall is bad guy Ned Pepper. He has a small gang and a young girl, Maddie (Kim Darby), has engaged the services of the older, very gruff Marshall Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) to help bring Pepper to justice. Much of the story line is about having adequate True Grit to handle someone like Pepper and his gang and the unlikely pairing of Maddie and Cogburn. Cogburn has a patch over one eye, a fondness for whiskey and few kind words for anyone.The duo becomes a trio when Glenn Campbell joins them as a Texas Ranger also on the trail. There are of course many challenges to face.

Deep into the movie, Cogburn is on horseback across a meadow from Ned Pepper and three of his cohorts, also on horseback. Pepper had previously kidnapped Maddie and was using her as a bargaining chip to get away. In learning Maddie is safe, Pepper makes the case Cogburn should move aside because one against four isn’t good odds and the girl is okay. Pepper calls out, “What are your intentions?”

“I am to kill you in one minute or take you back to Fort Smith to hang at Judge (something or other)’s convenience. What do you have to say to that?”

“I call that bold talk for a one-eyed, fat man.”

Cogburn sits straighter in his saddle, draws a second gun and shouts, “Fill your hand you son-of-_____!”, and charges forward.

It’s not a totally happy ending which I won’t get into, but there have been times in my career or other endeavors when I have made decisions to tackle something that falls into the category of, “bold talk for a one-eyed fat man”. And there were times when the odds were not favorable and things didn’t work out well. In other cases it did. The words, however, have held special meaning since I saw the movie all those years ago.

Another Memory Triggered……

I don’t recall exactly what show we were watching the other morning when the subject turned to the oil well fires set in Kuwait as the Coalition advanced during Desert Storm. After Saddam Hussein had control of Kuwait – which he did quite rapidly – he didn’t know for certain how firmly that proverbial “Line in the Sand” would be drawn. Without getting into a lot of details, the King of Saudi Arabia opened his country to allow the initial forces to enter in a defensive posture. That was the Desert Shield portion. As plans were being drawn up for the offensive action to re-take Kuwait – that was the Desert Storm part. In the midst of many terrible atrocities Iraqis were committing, orders were given to dig trenches in the oil fields and fill them. Among the other threats, Hussein said he would torch the trenches and the oil wells. According to a source I trust, the Emir of Kuwait said something like, “I can rebuild my country once I have it back.”

And so, early one morning as the lightning fast attacks of Desert Storm were pushing the Iraqi military back, the threat was carried out. I think the number of wells set on fire was around 700 and I don’t know how many trenches were. The headquarters I was in was at least 150 miles away (probably more) and the sky was as dark as if twilight was setting in. It was incredible to see and an environmental disaster of staggering proportions. The sky was affected throughout the day and may have been longer. I also don’t recall the number of special crews they brought in (many American of course), but if you watch the old movie, “Hellfighters”, it’s a good depiction of what it was like for months on end. The fires were set the latter part of January and early February and the first ones weren’t extinguished until early April. The effort took until November to complete. Like so much of what happens in war, it accomplished nothing other than to inflict deliberate damage. It didn’t stop the advance of troops or provide a negotiating point. In situations like these, this is why you demand unconditional surrender.