Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day Traditions

My earliest memory of Memorial Day was going to the cemetery to place flowers on graves. It always made me feel just a little bit weird to realize that in the ground beneath my feet lay all that remained of a human body. Since I didn’t have x-ray vision, I imagined that mummified bodies lay in air-tight coffins. When we visited the old cemeteries where some of the graves were sunken, I carefully avoided those areas fearful that I might fall through.

I always noticed the American flags, but most of the graves we visited were family and not necessarily military. Sometimes we would run into other family members who were placing plastic floral arrangements on graves. Then, it was a time to enjoy seeing the living.

It seems it was usually hot, and shade is hard to come by in most cemeteries. Often a table is set up where you could make donations for the upkeep. Nobody likes to see overgrown brushy cemeteries. The old cemetery where my great-grandparents are buried is usually cleared by family members. I saw some people on Facebook planning a time to work on it since it wasn’t done this year.

Most people celebrate life on Memorial Weekend with picnics. The red, white, and blue is the only thing that says Memorial Day more than grilled hotdogs and hamburgers.

For the last nine years I have visited the Missouri Veterans Cemetery in Higginsville for their Memorial Day Services. Although several artificial arrangements will be placed on graves, the cemetery rules call for cut flowers. Flowers are usually easy to find, but  it is a challenge to find a plastic (unbreakable) vase to put them in. This year, I lucked out. I bought a dozen roses and found a clear plastic container. I decorated it with patriotic duck tape and with some red ribbon. I always like to put Jim’s name on the arrangement I take, but this year it suddenly occurred to me to put his picture too. I printed out a shipping label, covered it with clear packing tape. I was pleased with the results.

This year, my sister-in-law Ginger and my great-niece made the trip with me. We stopped at McDonald’s and arrived at the cemetery a mere twenty minutes before the scheduled start time. We were directed to park near the new columbarium. We followed the sidewalk, crossed the bridge, and made it to the original columbarium just in time for the services to begin. The special guest speaker, Senator David Pearce, talked about how families had put special inscriptions on the stones. He began to read a few of them and one was “Rest High on That Mountain”—Jim’s stone.

Mayor Bill Kolas, Higginsville, spoke about how the traditions of Memorial Day has changed. Memorial Day used to be the signal that it was okay to wear white shoes. Of course, in today’s world, we wear white shoes when we feel like it. Instead of being “Decoration Day” to honor the fallen, for some people it’s all about picnics and sports. He talked about how school children no longer learn the history of World War I, or World War II—how they’ve never learned about Pearl Harbor, Normandy, Iwo Jima, Okinawa—because text book companies have left them out. This lack of history, he said, included governments. When President Charles DeGaulle demanded that all U.S. troops be evacuated off French soil, President Johnson directed Secretary of State Rusk to ask if that included the American soldiers buried there.

I was able to walk along the side and placed the roses in front of Jim’s niche during the ceremony. I stood beneath the shade of my umbrella for the remainder of the program. When the speakers were finished, the rifle volley and “Taps” reminded us more than words of the veteran’s sacrifices for the good of the country, for our freedom.

It was a lovely service in a beautiful cemetery that honors our Missouri Veterans. Flags from the branches of service, the POW flag, the Missouri State Flag, and Old Glory flapped in the breeze, keeping watch over the veterans.  As the crowd began to clear, peace blanketed the cemetery.

copyright © by L.S. Fisher, May 2014    

Monday, May 19, 2014

There's an App for That

It seems that no matter what you want to do, someone will remind you, “There’s an app for that,” and sure enough there is. Often it is things you don’t even think about. “How did you tie that scarf?” There’s an app for that. Apple owns the trademark for the slogan, but it now pops up in everyday language.

It has become a running joke that apps can make the difficult easy. They provide quick, simple solutions. We now have an “app generation” that knows they can click on an icon and have the knowhow that used to be passed from generation to generation. They take for granted having the world at their fingertips, a world that we couldn’t even imagine when we were kids.

As personal electronic devices become easier and more user friendly, we boomers have come to embrace the wonderful world of technology. What we have learned is something that younger generations have always had. We went through years of schooling without spell check, grammar check, the ability to just back up to erase the typed word, no Google search for research papers, rotary telephones plugged into a wall that served one purpose—conversation, and no concept of what an “app” was, or that it would ever exist.

Even those of us boomers with wild imaginations didn’t foresee the day when school kids would be walking around with text books on a slim device. And the thought of being in constant communication with our parents would have probably seemed more like a nightmare than a desired condition. Our parents were parents—not our best friends.

Now that we boomers are reaching the age when we are most vulnerable to Alzheimer’s, the brave new world has come up with a possible solution—maybe, just maybe, there is, or will be, an app for people with dementia.

I read an article this morning about Apple and Google technology helping fight Alzheimer’s disease. The article spoke of tests and treatments disguised as games. Wrist watches and eye glasses that could be used for GPS tracking, facial recognition, and help with daily living.

Maybe more research should go into developing smart phones, or other electronic devices, specifically for people with dementia, especially those who are in early stages. Devices would need to be easy to keep track of, super easy to use with voice activated apps, and pictures.

Think about the problems that people in the early stages of dementia have—they forget appointments, forget to take medication, get lost, have trouble communicating, and trouble problem solving. Well, I know for a fact that I’ve used my smart phone to solve the first three problems on that list. I’m not too likely to forget appointments when my smart phone reminds me. I had trouble remembering to take my morning medication until I put a reminder on my phone. Getting lost is not an option with GPS on my phone. Wouldn’t it be easier for the memory impaired to communicate if they could see the person they were talking to instead of just hearing them? After all, words are only seven percent of our communication with each other. Facial expressions are included in body language and account for 55 percent. We’ve already discussed that there’s an app for solving a myriad of problems.

Why not have Medicare dollars pay for technology to enhance independent ability rather than drugs that cause side effects and often diminish alertness? Not only can technology help now, it will be even more beneficial for future generations who have technology entrenched in their long-term memories.

copyright© May 2014 by L.S. Fisher

Article: Sun, Leo.  

Monday, May 12, 2014

In the Still of the Night

I used to think that older/retired people didn’t need much sleep. Seemed like after years of forcing themselves out of bed during their working years, they found themselves jumping out of bed at sunrise just because that’s when they felt like getting up. When you think about it, that works well for someone who goes to bed early. If you have your eight hours of shut-eye in by daylight, you are going to want to jump up and start the day early.

Then there’s those like me who stay up until midnight. A full night’s sleep will still get me out of bed by eight and that’s plenty early. What I don’t like is when I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. Last night, I woke up at about three thirty. I tossed, turned, and tried to go back to sleep. No luck. Then, when I thought it might happen, my weather alert radio went off. I dragged my sleepy self to the kitchen to turn it off. I pushed the button that tells what the alert is, and it started giving a regular forecast. I didn’t hear anything resembling weather that warranted the alarm.

Back in bed, I couldn’t help but think there should have been a reason for the bells and whistles disturbing my peace. Well, with my smart phone, I normally receive weather alerts on Facebook and via email, not to mention radar, and Google news. I debated. Browsing the Internet tends to keep me awake, but better safe than sorry, right? Okay, curiosity won.

First email. No alert. Then, Facebook. Oh geeze, couldn’t help but look at all the old photos posted for Mother’s Day. They just went on, and on. Time passed. It was soon four thirty, and I was wide awake. Still, determined to sleep awhile longer, I put down the phone and resumed tossing and turning, mind churning.

In the still of the night, I started thinking about how seemingly insignificant decisions or events changed the entire course of my life. I thought about the chain of events that led up to meeting Jim… On a summer Saturday, my mom and I were in the Dew Drop Inn eating hamburgers and fries when Kenny Fisher walked in. My mom knew him and introduced me. A week later, Kenny, “Uncle Orvie,” introduced me to his nephew. In many ways, it was a random meeting on an otherwise uneventful day in a series of uneventful days. Yet, that chance meeting changed the course of my life.

Sometimes the randomness of life scares me. The thought that if I do this, or don’t do that, it can change my destiny for better or worse. My life sometimes seems out of control, careening through time and space, heading toward that final frontier.

I’ve always had this insatiable curiosity as to what makes me, me. Why are my thoughts, fears, joys and sorrows, and life’s experiences inside this particular body, living this unique life, in this specific place?

In opposition to the scary thought of where the path of life is taking me is the comfort of what I consider to be my master plan. This isn’t just based on my decisions, but on my destiny. This isn’t to say that I don’t think my decisions are important anymore, in fact, I think they are crucial. But somehow, it seems that when I reach a crossroad, I choose the path that is right for me.

All my heavy thinking didn’t help me go back to sleep. So, just like other “older” people I used to shake my head at, I was up before dawn. A few cups of coffee, and I was good to go.

I wonder if today will bring one of those life changing decisions, or will it be merely another forgettable day? I may not know that answer for years—or I may know it by sundown.

Whatever the day brings, I’m confident it will fit into my master plan.

copyright © May 2014 by L. S. Fisher

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Dare to Inspire and to Be Inspired

April was a busy month and the first week of May was more of the same. On May Day, I went to the Lodge of the Four Seasons to spend time with some of the most inspiring women I have ever had the pleasure to add to my circle of friends. Business Women of Missouri are focused on improving life for all women, but especially those who are struggling. I am proud to be part of a group that focuses on legislation to help women, scholarships, collecting personal care products for women’s shelters…everywhere you looked, women shared ideas, hugs, and helping hands.

My friend, Nancy, has served as the state president for the past year. As part of Nancy’s team, I learned just how complex planning a conference can be. Fortunately, we had capable leaders who were able to crunch the numbers to find that, indeed, we could meet our obligation. They dared to break the mold and try some new ideas. Because of this, our Saturday morning program included two dynamic, and inspiring, speakers.

Nancy finished her term as president and turn the reins over to Sherry whose theme is “Dare to Inspire and to Be Inspired.” Inspiration—the word comes from the same Latin root word as respiration, spirare, which means “to breathe.”  Inspiration makes me feel alive.

Today has been both a sad day and an inspiring day. This morning, the sun was shining and a breeze provided a perfect day for being outdoors. The day started with setting tomato and pepper plants into the earth, with the promise of fresh produce later in the summer.

It was still early when I headed toward Versailles to a memorial for a lovely lady who left this earth too soon. Loretta had asked two family members to speak at her services. Both spoke of how inspiring and life-changing their relationship with Loretta had been. There’s no better legacy to leave than to be a positive influence on others.

Afterwards, my mom, sister, brother, and sister-in-law went out to lunch. As is typical in a small town, the place was filled with people we knew. When my aunt and uncle came in, we squeezed together to make room at the table for them. The conversation was lively, filled with humor. I was sitting at a table with people who inspire me. Then, more cousins/aunts (our family is complicated because my dad’s cousins married my mom’s brothers). It was heartening to spend some time with people I’ve known my entire life. Inspiring.

My day ended with board members of our local Business Women’s Club. Once again, I sat at a table with caring women whom I admire and am inspired by. These women give generously of their time and talents.

As we said our goodbyes, shared hugs and encouragement, I walked out of the restaurant thinking I would jump in my car and head home. It had been a long day. Instead, I decided to walk across the street and look at the veteran’s bricks I had purchased in honor of Jim and my dad.

The evening breeze whipped the eternal flame. Suddenly, I realized how beautiful the evening, and how inspiring the tributes to those who dared to lay their lives on the line for our country. The names on memorials and the rows of bricks were evidence of sacrifice and commitment. I wandered down the sidewalk reading the names. I saw one inscribed with a date when a life was lost in the Philippines. Sad, but inspiring.

I walked around snapping pictures of this familiar landmark, that had suddenly taken on a special atmosphere. I was the only person on the courthouse lawn. Had that ever happened before? What a perfect evening. What a great day to be alive, and appreciate those who died so that I could walk around the courthouse on a peaceful May evening. The breeze, the very breath of inspiration,  ruffled my hair, caressed my skin, and filled my heart with hope and happiness, as I dared to be inspired.

copyright © May 2014 by L. S. Fisher