Monday, November 18, 2013

Second Chances, Happy Endings and Free Stuff

Caryl adds: Plus everything you need to know about creative aging in 10 steps! 

Frieda is the leading lady (one might say diva dog) in Jon Kat'z  new book Second Chance Dog: A Love Story 
This is a dog story. It’s not my dog story. Mine is tragic. When my children were small, they campaigned for a dog. After much consideration and a written plea by my older daughter listing reasons why our family needed a dog and what kind of breed would meet her parents’ criteria—not too big, not too small, doesn’t shed etc.-- my husband and I gave in. Friday, a medium-size, non-shedding—(we forgot to mention no baying at the moon!) beagle with floppy ears, soulful eyes and a tail that stood up like a flag on the back of a bicycle, came to live with us. Fast forward a few years: my husband decides to take a job in Prague, and I am left with two children, a demanding job and an animal menagerie: a cat (Fritz), two birds (Feather and Sunshine), a hampster (Petey) and Friday, a dog that needed to be walked on the mean streets of New York late at night. I admit with shame, remorse and some embarrassment, I couldn’t handle it by myself. I couldn't leave my children alone to walk a dog no matter how persuasive were those soulful eyes. So Friday went to live with my in-laws in Cleveland where she enjoyed a fenced-in back yard, home-cooked meals and the adoration of empty-nesters.

But that’s not the dog story I am here to tell you.  The dog story I want to share is a happy one—and it’s about Frieda, the dog pictured above, and how she brought together two Second Lifers who learned about the resilience of love from a four-legged outcast who ran wild in the Adirondacks until she was rescued.

Whem Jon met Maria,  Frieda was part of the deal.  Notice who has the best seat.

Frieda, is also called “The Hell-Dog” or “The Dog Who Kept Men Away” but author Jon Katz won her heart and the heart of her owner Maria, and he writes about it all  in his book Second Chance Dog: A Love Story. The book published last week is already a best-seller on Kindle’s Dog Store. (Who knew?) By the way, if you want to find out about the free stuff (spoiler alert: it’s the book but Katz is giving one away each day for a month) go to Katz’s excellent website, Bedlam Farm.  You can read more about their love story, an inspiring tale about two people test-driving new lives, who were looking for purpose, and in the process found each other.
Bedlam Farm
There's more. Katz also gave a Ted talk last week in Montclair, N.J. that included his 10-point plan for creative aging, one of the best pieces I’ve read on the subject and I’ve read a lot. I’ve gotten older just reading this stuff. Katz’s words, however, made me wiser too. Jon Katz called his manifesto "How to Get Older In America".
We prefer: 10 Commandments for a Second Life.
1. I will never downsize my mind or my life, I will never cease to be open to life. A closed mind is the first and saddest death, the death of the mind.
2. I will never complain about the young and talk about how they are not as hard-working, thoughtful or responsible as I was at their age, I will never talk about the good old days, they were never really all that good, I am not here to turn back the clock.
3. My life is not about my health, that is not my currency, my dialogue with the world, my wife, my friends. That is not what defines me. I do not discuss my health with strangers, I do not greet them by asking them about their health, I do not define myself by tests and procedures, my life bounded by visits to the pharmacy. I will decide what health means to me, not some numbers in a blood test, not some pharmaceutical or insurance company or government agency.
4. I embrace and accept new technologies, new realities, not as unwanted intrusions, but as the parade of change that defines a fulfilled life at any age. Nostalgia is a trap, our lives what we make of them each day. So I have a blog – I do podcasts, I take videos. I meet my readers where they are, not where they used to be or I wish they were. My blog is my face in the mirror, my message to the world. Three years ago, at age 63, I re-married in the old barn on the farm I bought when I was 57 years old. I was beginning life anew. I found love.
At my wedding, I read from the poet Mary Oliver's great anthem, "Mornings At Blackwater."
"So come to the pond,
or the river of your imagination,
and the harbor of your longing,
and put your lips to the world,
And live your life."

5. I do not apologize for growing older, I know where I am and what I can and cannot do, growing old in America is not a shame, a dark cloud hanging over my head. I am proud of my life, of where I am, there is so much dignity in growing old. Growing old is not the time of apology, it is the age of wisdom. We have nothing to lose by being authentic, we are approaching the night.
6. I will not trade a full life now for an empty life later. I will not permit others to define my life in exchange for money. I will not live a life cast in fear and built on the cruel illusion of security. There is none in this world, not outside of ourselves.
7. I joyously delight in refusing to accept 15 cent senior discounts on coffee from Dunkin' Donuts or $1.10 off my birdseed at the hardware store. I am happy to tell the teen-aged cashiers that I can afford a cup of coffee and a bag of seed, if they really care about me, then please give my discount to young people with children, they are in greater need. I am not a worthy cause.
8. I approach growing older with acceptance, not denial, with grace, not avoidance, with the embrace of the new, not withdrawal and retreat. Joseph Campbell cautions that you better know where you are in life when the mask comes off. And isn't that what growing older is really all about? The mask comes off, and for good. We don't need it anymore.
Fear is a ghost, you can put your finger right through his heart.
9. I am living a meaningful life without much money, I will die a meaningful death with thought and strength. I do not have long-term health insurance. How I died is another way of determining how I have lived. And whose choice is this, if not mine?
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, I will tell you this, straight from the heart:
10: Do not ever give up on love, even when everyone and everything around you conspires to make you believe it is lost to you and can never be found again. That is the death of the soul, the body left just a hollow shell. 
Crisis and mystery are just around the corner, always. So are love and joy.

(We always like to give photo credits but I'm not sure who took these but I found them on Bedlam 

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