Friday, May 27, 2016


Mother cared naught for things
no precious china
no wedding rings
no photographs.
She liked ideas
politics and poetry
a small whiskey
with a good chat
tea with cream and
what she called, a decent cake.
Wild flowers stirred her
birds were companions
land treasured ... and longed for.
She loved her children
but not to excess
not under her feet
nor always in the house.
A person of deep feelings,
she disliked the sentimental;
frequent displays of affection
were foreign to her.
A pat or two on the head would do.
She expected independence
but understood failure.
"You can always come home," she liked to say.
She abhorred boasting, allowed no bragging
success was to be mentioned only in passing.
She spoke with a soft brogue
her generosity was boundless.
Shy of strangers
she warmed up quickly
leaving them overtaken with her charm.

My mother was Irish.
She sent her children out in the rain to play.

Bridget Harwell

Sunday, May 22, 2016


It doesn't do to die in May
when all the world is waking
to close your eyes to blue skies
your ears to chirp and chatter
to lay cold hands upon your chest
as if it didn't matter
the lilac bush has run amuck
and seeds wait to be planted.
It doesn't do to stop your heart
in midst of all this blooming
while my poor heart so full of love
is beating

Bridget Harwell

Friday, May 6, 2016

Thoughts on the Last Show

There are some good things about getting old.

There's a sentence that will get a reaction: something like, "Oh Pleeeze."
Notice I didn't say "getting older." Lots of people would agree that middle and late-middle age come with compensations.  If you are fortunate, you can look forward to a number of things, including: fewer parental chores, greater financial security, the peaking of a career, retirement.  Of course, everyone is not fortunate enough to achieve all or maybe any of these goals.  Nevertheless, there is a general recognition that life in one's fifties or sixties or even seventies can be good.  Being old is seen in a different light.  Viewed from afar, it appears scary and unrewarding.  And people in their eighties and nineties are not turning out a lot of articles or sending many tweets that inform us.

Every stage of development, child, young adult, middle age, has its challenges and awards, its gains and losses. We don't expect any period of life to be all good or all bad ...except, perhaps, old age. The collective picture of this life stage, greatly influenced by the media, is a fairly consistent one: being old is a very bad thing.  We do occasionally see happy faces of old people playing with grandchildren, sitting in sunny gardens drinking lemonade.  But there are few images of the old that depict variety in their lives with rewards as well as difficulties.  We see an abundance of old people shuffling along with canes, popping pills or popping up out of mechanical chairs.  Occasionally, we see them thinking ...  how to manage a funeral that will spare their loved ones expense and worry.  Even more discouraging are images of the old having fun.  See them line dance, poor dears, see them play with balloons, see them exercise in their chairs.

This narrow, one dimensional view of the final stage of life is cartoonist in its public portrayal.  Small wonder that in our society people fear old age; your body deteriorates, you lose your mind and you die.

I am deliberately not talking about illness or pain or incapacity.  I'm choosing some of the good things about being old, things that don't get much press.

In middle age, life events still pack a powerful punch.  But in old age life events even out a bit.  Even the highs and lows you recall are not as high or as low as they once seemed in the-oh-so-dramatic past.  And the highs and lows of other people's lives are viewed in the same light of experience.  You still care, but you have lived long enough to know that your ability to change others is limited and that joys and sorrows come and go and, for the most part, things have a way of working out.  And what does this relative peacefulness bring you?  The ability to enjoy the larger picture; to watch the drama of individual lives and the world as a whole without having to jump in.

When you're old, you no longer have to climb a ladder. Not the school's, not the corporation's. You have achieved whatever you have achieved.  That's not to say you won't or can't achieve more.  But no one is expecting or demanding that you finish that degree, get a promotion, make more money or use your creative gifts. The world is ready to give you a pass. Achieve whatever you like, or don't. It doesn't mean you no longer compete.  You can if you want but it's more out of choice than necessity.  To do something for pure enjoyment as opposed to making money or living up to expectations is a unique experience for many people.  In fact, guilt about having such freedom is not uncommon.

For some, making decisions about how to spend time can be a challenge, but challenges don't disappear with age.  Like almost no other stage in life, if you maintain your health you can do what you want within the confines of your means.

While we like to talk about the big values in life  little also counts.  Small things that add spice, bring pleasure and can make or break a day.  Old people that I know and those I eavesdrop on, find physical comfort very important.  Happiness can be  a warm bath or a cup of tea or a martini away.  And then there's the wonderful freedom to move through life in a more relaxed fashion.  You can wear a muumuu or a structured suit ... nobody cares.  The audience you once played for in your tight jeans and heels is either no longer there or you no longer want to play.

Yes, you may be in pain, you may have lost your mate, you may have a meager income, you may suffer from loneliness.  But think of other stages of life.  Some people have happy childhoods and some have hellish childhoods.  Adolescence, with its wonderful youth can be difficult or heartbreaking.  Parenting, for all its reward, is exhausting and at times unbelievably difficult.  And all the years you worked, unless you were blessed and loved your work, involved grinding away at a job, striving to have a better life or just make ends meet.

At each turn in life you had some success and some failure.  Why should the final stage be any different? To a degree, you shaped who you were and how you behaved at each stage. You have the same opportunity or challenge in old age.

But, wait a minute. What about the BIG thing you get in the final stage that isn't in the others. You know, death?

At earlier stages, death seems incomprehensible; it will never happen to you and if it does it will be awful.  By the time you reach old age a lot of that feeling fades.  One acclimates and accepts according to one's nature.  You can go with, "Do not go gentle into that good night, rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light."  But from my perspective, great poetry that this is, it does not seem like good advice; it's a noisy, young perspective.  One that doesn't ring true for old age.

There are other good things to be experienced besides those I have mentioned.  Some people say that this time of their life is when they are able to receive and give the purest love ... surely, that's no small thing.