Keeping Going

Embry gleefully announced yesterday that she was going for a job interview regarding a consulting assignment which would involve evaluating agriculture programs in the war-torn country of Mali. When I asked her where Mali was, she said it was in Africa, but it took her a while to find it on a map. It is one of the countries in the middle of the African continent that straddles the Sahara Desert and the rain forest. That she knows absolutely nothing about farming and still has an office at the Urban Institute where she works on occasional assignments did not hold her back for an instant. I have got to give her credit: Moxy, baby.

My question to her was how many people age 73 get to interview  for a job in an African country ravaged by an ongoing civil war for an assignment where they have zero prior experience. And, I added, while on the job, the chances of being kidnapped by one of the rebel armies is probably around 50 percent. This morning she spent a couple of hours on the internet frantically trying to find out as much about the country as possible before rushing off to the interview. My only consolation was that I figured there was no way she could possibly get the job.

And then there was the announcement this morning by Joe Biden that he is running for President of the United States for the third time. Biden was born in 1942 and will turn 77 this year. He is my age. But, hey, Bernie Sanders has already turned 78. And our current president is no spring chick. And perhaps the most amazing thing is that on all the morning news shows I skimmed through this morning, I did not hear one word about age. That would have been unthinkable a decade or two ago. It was certainly a big issue in 1980 with Reagan, and he was under 70 when he started his first term.

I am a loyal member of an informal gathering called  “the men’s group” that meets every Wednesday morning in the apartment house where we live in Washington. I am the only one who refers to it as the “Old Codgers Club,” but that is in effect what it is. Of the 15 or so men who regularly show up, there are always at least a couple who get there with the help of a walker or motorized wheelchair. At 77 I am one of the younger ones in the group with at least two in their nineties and a bunch of others getting close to that. But do these guys think of themselves as old? Not for a minute. When I asked yesterday how many agreed with me that Joe Biden was too old to run for president, there were no takers. “Go for it, baby,” was the unanimous response, “anyone who can beat Trump! And besides he probably has the best chance.”

It is not that we codgers are naïve. We know what loss is. We know what mortality is. There is no one in our group, as far as I know, who is not an orphan. We have all lost our parents. Some have lost a spouse. Some have lost siblings. My only sibling, a younger brother, died about ten years ago. Some have lost a child as Embry and I have. Most have lost friends, some best friends. 

Yet we keep on going.

So what is it about us “old codgers” that keeps us going as far as we can as long as we can? Having spent my career in the development of seniors housing, I have visited a  lot of retirement communities, assisted living facilities and nursing homes. I have seen a lot of old folks in not-so-good shape. I know that as we age we slow down and that people slow down at different rates and in different ways. I know that eventually we all die. So much of what we can do as we get older depends on health. So much depends on luck. 

I also know that I am one of the lucky ones and deeply grateful for that. I try to walk about four miles a day and swim about 600 yards a day in the lap pool in our apartment house when I do not walk. I still get out on Wednesday nights in the spring and summer to race my sailboat (with a lot of help from my younger crew!), and Embry and I still travel a lot.  I am active as a volunteer board member in several non profit housing organizations and treat these opportunities like I would a full time job; and if you are reading this, you know about my blog. 

I am especially lucky—blessed is probably a better word—since I am also a polio survivor. I doubt that there are many other polio victims who are able to do the kind of things that I can do at my age. I think there is something about the human condition that we humans keep going for as long as we can, knowing that while there is a lot we can’t do anymore, there is also a lot we still can do and, dammit, we are going to do it. We are going to keep going. 

And it is not just us humans. Embry said she learned about aging gracefully from Minette, our first pet, a cat, part Siamese and part Russian Blue, who died in her nineteenth year. She continued to do almost everything she did as a younger cat but just slowed everything down—not jumping as high (as a young cat she could easily jump from the floor to the top of an open door) or running as fast.  And that was true of all our pets and, I suspect, of all living creatures. It is the miracle we call life.

But still.

Still I wonder if 77 might be too old for anyone to run for president. Biden would be in his mid 80s toward the end of a second term.  I just checked out the life expectancy of someone his—and my–age (male, 77), and right now it is just over nine years. Then I thought, hey, wouldn’t that be neat—to serve as a great president for two terms and be loved and respected by all–okay, by many–and then die of a heart attack the day following the inauguration of the next president. But can anyone my age keep working that hard for eight or nine more years? I know that I would not stand a chance. Nor would I want to even try. I can’t imagine the stress that is associated with 18 months of campaigning followed by the hardest job in the world.  

Perhaps such concerns put me in the category of “ageist.” Yet I think part of the “art of aging” is knowing when to slow down and when doing less is better than doing more. That is not all that easy. It is really hard to give up things you loved to do. For the last few years, every time I boarded my sailboat, Second Wind, for the first time in a season, I wondered silently, is this going to be the last year. But I will be out there again for the first race of the season on May 1. I am just another one of those old codgers who is determined not to throw in the towel. 

And I am hardly the only one. As I am writing this, I just got a call from Embry: she got the job! “Don’t worry,” she exclaimed with great enthusiasm, “They told me that they don’t let any of their workers visit Timbuktu without bodyguards.” 

Faux News: Trump Declares “Total Victory,” Praises The Barr “Report,” And Orders Jailing of Democrats and “Deep State Traitors”

President Trump held a rally today in Biloxi, Mississippi, surrounded by over 10,000 screaming fans wearing MAGA hats. In front of the hastily assembled stage   in the center   a high school football field  a huge pile of papers burned with flames towering 50 feet high, said by Trump to be copies of the “worthless Mueller report.”

“You don’t need to read this bullshit,” he said to the delight of the adoring crowd in the bleachers. The Barr Report says it all, No Collusion, No Collusion, No Collusion.”

The crowd erupted immediately, screaming “No Collusion. No Collusion. No Collusion.”

Trump responded, “No Obstruction, No Obstruction, No Obstruction.”

The crowed followed in a frenzy shouting that phrase, then “Kill the Witch Hunters,” and “Lock Her Up.” This raucous activity lasted about a half hour before Trump waived to the crowd, pumped his fist in the air, and exited the stage. 

Following the rally, Trump answered questions from reporters, all from small, pro Trump newspapers, mainly in the South and from Fox News. All other media were screened out except one, Faux News, which when mispronounced “Fox News” is this news outlet’s ticket to getting into these events.

Trump, who was joined by a smiling Rudy Giuliani and Lindsay Graham at his side, told reporters that since he was now completely exonerated by the Barr Report, it was time to move on. Barr’s four page, “exhaustive” report in his view was complete and accurate and was all anyone needed to read. This is why Trump said he was commanding his base to burn every copy of the “flawed and inaccurate” Mueller Report, which even though it totally exonerated him in every respect is still “mostly flawed and was totally unnecessary, a complete waste of money.” Trump talked about how much suffering he has had to endure from what he called a Witch Hunt and traitorous activity inspired by “the Deep State and by Democrats out to get me.” 

Since the Barr Report “summarized all the important parts of the worthless Mueller Report,” Trump added that the content of the report was irrelevant, unnecessary and “probably illegal.” Giuliani and Graham told the reporters that they had no intention of reading a single page of the illegal document and had in fact tossed their copies into the bonfire. Graham added that any Republican caught reading this false report would be stripped of all committee assignments and probably jailed. Giuliani echoed his comments saying that reading the report would just “confuse things” and that the Barr Report was the only source that could be trusted as balanced, fair, bipartisan and truthful. 

When asked by one reporter, what “moving on” meant, Trump said that the major focus of the balance of his term will be “locking up the traitors” that were responsible for the unnecessary report. “It is time to clean house in this country and put the real traitors in jail,” he replied, “And today I am ordering the FBI to revisit the Clinton email illegal activity and to lock her up and then lock up everyone in the FBI who worked on the Mueller Report, starting with Mueller himself.” When another reporter asked how the FBI could be expected to actually lock themselves up, Trump paused for a minute and then said, “Watch me.”

Trump later tweeted, “Wonderful day for America! Witch Hunt over. Totally exonerated. No collusion. No obstruction. Hail to the chief! Jail for the thieves!”

Meanwhile Democrats in Congress and all major news media have been pouring over the 450-page Mueller Report, with much interest and curiosity, noting a long list of items that would appear to fall into the categories of both collusion and obstruction of justice.

One Democratic Congressmen observed that Mueller was not even investigating collusion since that is not in and of itself a criminal activity. Also since it is FBI policy that no sitting president can be indicted for a crime while still in office, according to an FBI spokesperson, the responsibility lies with the Congress to investigate further and take appropriate action.  Chuck Schumer tweeted later in the day, “The Fat Lady has not even come on the stage yet for this one.”

Robert Mueller has also handed over 14 cases to the Southern District of New York, related to allegations of criminal activities by Trump that were not part of the Russia probe. Another Democratic Congressman, Adam Schiff, tweeted, “Buckle up. The fun is just beginning.”

Faux News Series Continues: Okay, God.

Our reporter has done it again—a second interview with God. Here is the transcript:

Okay, God. Thanks for granting a second interview. You are great to do this.


Yes, I do in fact have something on my mind and that has been bothering me for a long time actually. What I want to know is how come with humans when we get old we get ugly?


Well, I appreciate that you don’t think we humans look ugly when we get old. And, yes, I know you love us, each and every one, but still when I look in the mirror I see someone with white hair, wrinkles, and getting balder by the day. I know I do not look like I used to in my forties and fifties. You have got to admit that I looked better then. And there is also my weight. It seems almost impossible to get back to what I weighed then. You may think I don’t look ugly, but I think so.


Thanks again, God. This makes me feel better that I do not look as bad  as I think I do, but still. And here is my question: why humans? Why did you pick on us? What I mean by this is this: Like a lot of people, I have owned pets—dogs, cats, fish, whatever. Now these pets all got old and eventually died, but just looking at them when they got up in years, you could not tell they were all that old. Have you ever seen a wrinkle on a fish? Why not? A dog with hair that turned from brown to white when he got old? Ditto for a cat? Okay, they all slowed down when they got old, but what I mean is they did not look all that much different from what they always looked like. Even our closest cousins, apes and chimps. When you see one in the zoo, it is not obvious who is up there in years and who is not? Why not? Why have you made us humans this way and nobody else this way? I have got  to say that I do not think it is fair.


Yes, I do agree that we live longer than most species, and I would like to thank you for that. I still do not think that we humans live long enough as it is, but if you lose your hair, shrivel up, have trouble remembering what you had for breakfast, and can barely move, who wants to live all that much longer anyway? And by the way, elephants and sea turtles live about as long as we humans do. Old sea turtles don’t have wrinkles as far as I know, and old elephants don’t have white hair. And it is not just pets and creatures you see in the zoo. What about other creatures in this world you made? What about worms, for example, lowly worms? You can put a bunch of worms on a table of all different ages and I swear, you can’t tell the difference between an infant, teenager or old codger. 


What is that? Oh yeah, I guess you are right , worms can tell the difference. Thanks for clarifying that.


Yes, God, there is something else, and it is related. I think that I understand why you invented menopause. No woman has any business trying to raise a child when  she is much over forty. I get this. I would say, good thinking. But what about us guys? We don’t really do that much raising kids anyway, so why when we get up in years do we lose, you know what I am talking about, why do we lose our “get up and go”? 


Yes, I do appreciate your giving us Viagra, and it does seem to help somewhat. But still I do not understand why….


Yes, God, I am familiar with the Bible and have read “The Book of Genesis.”


So that is the reason! The apple! You mean we humans are still paying the price for Adam and Eve eating the apple, the forbidden fruit? Well, first of all it seems to me that it was really Eve’s fault. She offered it to Adam, but I have to concede that he did take a bite. But getting ugly when we get old–that seems like a big price for us humans to pay for what seems to me to be a pretty small mistake. Cruel and unusual punishment is what I would call it. When do you think you will determine that we humans have paid our dues and served our time and can go back to what you had in mind for us in the first place. I can’t imagine that either Adam or Eve would have had any wrinklesMy recommendation would be that you let us live on for as long as you like but let us keep our 25 to 30-year old body for a as long as we want. 


Yes, I am a church goer. My mother once told me that I was not a Christian, however, because I was already an Episcopalian, and I am what they call a cradle-to-grave Episcopalian. And that brings me to another grievance. In the Episcopal Church we say the creed every Sunday, and one creed we often say is called the Apostles Creed. It says in the Apostles Creed that I believe “in the resurrection of the body.” So this gets back to my aging questions. We live with our body on Earth for what, maybe 75 or 80 years, if we are sort of average? But when we get resurrected, we are stuck with the body that we die with for eternity. So if I die at age 75 or 80, I am going to have a pretty grim eternity because I will be stuck with a body that, frankly, I do not like all that  much. So given a choice, who would want to have to deal with an 80 year-old body forever if they could trade it in for, say, a 25 or 30-year-old body? But nobody wants to die when you are 25, but if somehow you could work it out that we could actually choose which body we get to use for eternity, that would be really great. 


Just a suggestion, God. I know you know what you are doing. And I really appreciate your saying you will give the idea some thought. And I also appreciate your saying, “Don’t necessarily believe everything you read.”

Thank You God For Most This Amazing World

It is April 10thand I am on my “constitutional,” a three to four mile walk around the Cleveland Park neighborhood in Washington where Embry and I have lived for almost 50 years. I try to “get in my steps” four or five times a week. Today I am especially stunned by the beauty of the Washington spring. It has been a wet and cool spring this year, and plants love it. Today the temperature is in the mid 60s with low humidity and a gentle breeze. Because spring was late in coming, everything seems to be blooming at once. Daffodils and forsythia are still around, joined now by red, yellow, and orange tulips and pansies of all kinds of colors. The ethereal, Japanese cherry trees have started to pale and wilt, but bright, pink ornamental cherry trees are replacing them, and lavender redbud trees seem to be in every yard. The ivory colored blooms of dogwoods are just starting to peep out. Azaleas will not be far behind. Tiny green buds are on every tree. The Carolina blue sky is cloudless. 

I am speechless.

I take a deep breath and say a short prayer, “Thank you God for most this amazing day…” a line you may remember from one of ee cummings’s best poems. I ask myself if any place in the vast universe could top this. Did someone once say that if God did not exist, humans would have to invent Him? Do some say that now?

I say do not even begin to think that we humans can figure all this out. Just breathe in the fresh air, marvel at the colors all around you, smell the perfume of the flowers, and give thanks that you are alive.

Upon Turning 77

I just learned that 77 is actually a sacred number, which leads to a serious blog post. No fake news today.

Seventy-seven years ago at something like 12:15 in the morning I was born on April Fools Day in Saint Thomas Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. According to my mother, it was all Roosevelt’s fault—one of his many–for putting in daylight savings time. I have suffered ever since from being an April Fool.

Not really. In fact not at all. As I look back, as I suppose is natural for someone beginning a 78thyear of life on the planet Earth, I can’t help reflecting upon what it all means. What I can say is that I am profoundly grateful. I have been, as they say, blessed. Blessed for having a strong marriage to a strong woman, two children who make me proud (and their spouses!), four grandchildren, who exceed grandparent superlatives (like all grandchildren I suppose, but no, ours are special!) and deep and lasting friendships. These include first cousins, nieces, nephews and other friends we are close to. I mention these blessings first for a reason: they are what are most important.

Right up there near the top of the list , of course, is health. I have often said that life is a matter of inches, meaning an inch here or an inch there, and the story would be very different. My first “inch” had to do with the year I was born, 1942. If I had been born in, say, 1900 my life expectancy at birth (white male) would have been 47.  We take so much for granted in 2019, but just think: penicillin was not discovered/invented until 1928. Before that infections and infectious diseases often meant a death sentence. And just think of what it must have been like to have a tooth pulled in the early part of the last century.

 In my case I would have been dead by my early 20s had it not been for a new operation called a “spinal fusion,” developed only a couple of years earlier to correct severe curvature of the spine. In1952 I had had a pretty severe case of polio, which due to paralyzed stomach muscles resulted two years later in a backbone that looked like the letter “C.” If I had been born a decade before, my parents would have watched in horror knowing that my organs were getting all mixed up, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Few in this condition would have survived past their early twenties. Close call. Another close call was in my forties when I  “dodged a bullet,” words of my dermatologist, when he removed a melanoma mole, just before it spread to my lymph nodes. Let’s hear it for medical advances that have made such a difference in years lived and quality of life! My guess is that most of us who have reached the ripe old age of 77 have had our share of close calls. That we got past them is reason for thanksgiving.

Perhaps due to my polio experience and being on the sidelines for a long time during my youth, I have been a bit of an exercise fanatic my entire adult life. I was a serious runner—not very good but very serious—through my forties and mid fifties; and when knee issues began in the mid 90s, I became a serious walker and lap swimmer. Now with a new knee I am walking long(ish) distances again and am grateful for that. I am also grateful for the running partners I have had over the years. Generally speaking my health overall has been pretty good, probably exceptionally good when you take into account the fact that a large percentage of polio victims have experienced “post polio syndrome,” often resulting in paralysis which they thought they had left behind years earlier.

I recall in my fifties receiving a letter from a research organization asking me whether I had enough problems to qualify for a study on post polio. I responded by saying,  “Absolutely. I have cut down my running from five miles a day to three and now play tennis only twice a week.” I realize now what a crude and insensitive remark this was and can only say that I am grateful that I dodged the PPS bullet. I was not selected to participate in the study. 

Over the course of 77 years it is impossible to get by without experiencing hardships, disappointments, and for too many in our world, real suffering. Such is life on this lonely planet. For Embry and me the loss of our first child, Katherine, just before her first birthday was cause for much sorrow. She was born with a heart defect and did not survive what we understood was supposed to be a “routine, relatively low risk” heart operation in Chapel Hill in 1969. 

Nor is it possible to get by without making mistakes and doing really stupid things. All I can say about this—and there are way too many to begin to list here—is Lord have mercy.

There are so many other things to be thankful for. I think first of work. Think about how much of our lives are spent working. Think about how many people work very hard for very low pay and others who have bad jobs or jobs they hate. Think about those who want to work but can’t find jobs. Think about the difference between a job and a career. I was lucky to stumble upon a career that I loved: a professional in the field of real estate development with a specialty in developing seniors housing and affordable housing. I proudly consider founding and keeping Howell Associates going for 20 years a personal accomplishment, and being able to actually sell the company when I was in my late fifties is nothing less than de facto proof of a benign deity. I loved the work and the many wonderful people who worked with me at Howell Associates. I am also grateful that I am still able to keep an oar in the water by serving on several nonprofit boards that develop and own seniors or affordable housing.  While doing some of the same work, I write checks rather than receive them but only occasionally ask what is wrong with this picture. I am glad I have this opportunity.

Second, I think of extracurricular pursuits.  For me this includes writing, photography, sailing, and traveling. I still think how fortunate I was that after receiving five rejections from potential publishers of Hard Living on Clay Street, the last shot, Doubleday, came through; and the book has been in continuous print since 1973. I was not so lucky with Civil Rights Journey, which I ended up self publishing, but I am still proud of the book and the reception it has received. Photography remains a passion as may be apparent since you are reading this blog on my photography website, and I am still cruising  and racing a sailboat after all these years. You can’t find better sailing waters than the Chesapeake Bay, and also owning a charter boat in the Sunsail fleet in the British Virgin Islands has allowed Embry and me and friends to cruise in fabulous spots all over the world—the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Puget Sound, the South Pacific (Tahiti) and the Adriatic. 

Travel has also been an important activity, and all the credit goes to erstwhile travel agent and companion, Embry Howell. She plans. I tag along. But I have truly enjoyed these adventures in some 50 plus countries around the globe. The around-the-world adventure-no-airplanes, was probably the best, and you may have followed us on this website for this trip and some of the others.

So on my 77thbirthday, I think I can honestly say that I could not have asked for much more. I am also aware of the fact that the pathway I have followed was prepared by a lot of people ahead of me.  I am aware that compared to a lot of pathways mine was pretty smooth. Others can be–and often are– pretty steep and rocky. I was born into a loving family. I am aware that many privileges come from being white. I live in a wealthy country. I was able to attend terrific schools. I had mentors to follow. I have not had to worry too much about financial security. All these factors made for a pretty easy path to follow though not without a few hills and rough spots along the way. But make no mistake: we humans are what we are because of a lot of factors that we are not in control of, not just because of what we do on our own.

But even as we  77ers are in the countdown stage our lives, I can’t help thinking about the future. Those who have been following my blog know how much I hate Trump. However, Trump is not so much  a cause as a symptom of something out of kilter that goes much deeper. Globalization has created winners and losers, and the losers are angry and are fighting back. Trump has exploited this phenomenon, and nobody really knows how we will get through it. And it is not just a U.S. problem. The whole world is affected. Turkey, Poland, and Hungary have all turned toward dictators, and Brexit looks to me like a suicide wish by the Brits. Inequality in wages and income persists and is getting worse, not better.

And lurking over all of this is climate change, the number one issue for us  humans on the planet Earth. Scientists tell us that by 2050 if we are not on a solid path to significantly reducing carbon emissions–not just reducing the rate of increase– we are looking at sea level increases of 30 to 40 feet within the next century or two. And let me tell you: 77 years goes by pretty fast. Two hundred years is a mere blip on the human history timeline. By the turn of the century the planet could be spiraling out of control, and no one will be able to change its course. My grandchildren will probably still be alive then. What will happen to them and to their children? 

But this blog post is mainly about looking back, not forward. It has been a great 77 years. I was born before World War II was over but remember nothing about it. My father, who was aboard a Navy LST most of the time, survived. America prospered and became the dominant country on the planet. Since then we have fought wars, but they have been far away. Following the Vietnam War, the wars were all fought by volunteers. But I can’t help asking why must wars continue. And we tend to forget that lots of countries have nuclear weapons. We have the ability to destroy life on Earth as we know it in a matter of seconds.

A lot of changes occurred during this time, some good, some not so good. I put the Civil Rights Movement right up there at the top, and to be able to be part of the this movement is one of the parts of my life I am most proud of. The Women’s Movement and Gay Rights Movement have also changed our society for the better. But my generation also has suffered through the assassination of two Kennedys and Martin Luther King. And we are now in the era of Trump.

When I was born there was no such thing as a television set or a jet airplane or even a simple computer. The idea of sending a man to the moon was unthinkable. For my birthday, Embry gave me an Apple Watch. Dick Tracy, baby. Who would have ever thought…?

Though our history has been mixed, the last 77 years has been a good time to be alive. The short time allotted to me has been good.

Some call this luck. Certainly I am one of the lucky ones.

Others call this by the grace of God. I am certainly a beneficiary of God’s grace.

Whatever you want to call it, I am grateful to be alive and grateful for the 77 years I have had (so far) on this small, blue planet located in a run-of-the-mill galaxy in a universe of billions of galaxies and trillions of stars.