It’s just what I do…

One of the great blessings in my life is that I have wonderful friends who live all over the world! We can go weeks, months, or even years without seeing each other, and still slip into that easy comfort of closeness and friendship when we do actually get together. What makes things even more fun is when we meet for a fun-filled vacation at various “spots” that appeal to our sense of adventure and relaxation. This week’s story is about one such “adventure….”

Anyone who knows me, knows what I have done in my career, and why… I have worked all of my life working with, advocating for, protecting, providing care, and LOVING “old” people. The correct word to describe them is “elders,” but I wanted all of you to understand who I am talking about. I know that my love for this special group started as a child, loving my grandparents. And, oh my, did I LOVE them!! That love continued to grow as I fell hard and fast for each and every old person who attended all of my Daddy’s little country churches over the years. So, when I say I LOVE old people, it is not said lightly. It means they FILL my heart, that my emotions swell with joy, love, compassion, and that I just want to take care of them and make certain they have a wonderful quality of life.

Now, getting back to the story…As much as I love elders, there are times when I don’t want to feel the responsibility of caring for them; times when I simply want to turn off all the feelings, just relax and take care of me for a little while. I call these times vacations! And to be honest, I really have to work at turning off those “nurturing” feelings during this all too short timeframe. I don’t want to see an old person, think about an old person, take care of an old person…

So, some of my friends and I decided to go the “islands” for a vacation, and we were all going to meet in Atlanta at the airport and then fly to our final destination. All of our flights actually arrived on time in Atlanta (which was EXTREMELY UNUSUAL – lol!), and we had a “decent” layover before the next connecting flight. As we were sitting at our gate, waiting, we began to smell freshly popped popcorn. Our noses went on alert, searching for the source. I finally said, “I’ll go find the popcorn and get us some!” I began making my way down the terminal, just like an old coon dog, sniffing out where the popcorn was. I finally saw a little kiosk…the source of that wonderful smell. Standing behind the kiosk was an employee who obviously thought that this was her very last day on earth, and she had to come to work!! Really, what an attitude!! Grumpy and rude would not even begin to describe this woman accurately.

Standing in front of the kiosk was a short, very old woman, who would have fit Hollywood’s usual portrayal of a Russian itinerant worker. Her face was tracked with hundreds of lines reflecting a very long life of hardship, poverty, and possible sorrow. Shoulders stooped, the woman wore a dark olive shawl, draped over her head, and a long, thick skirt in the same color and material. Workman boots completed the outfit, and there was not one tooth in her mouth that I could see. And, she was OLD! From my observations, I determined that she could not speak the English language, and she did not have any money; however, she wanted some popcorn. She was trying to convey to the horrible employee that she just wanted a little taste of the popcorn, but did not have any money. I was standing in line behind the Russian woman, and there was this monster-sized cowboy standing behind me. He had to have been from Texas! He wore a huge 10-gallon hat, had cowboy boots the size of watermelons, and I’m certain he had to turn sideways to get those shoulders through a door!

As I was standing there, I began to feel my heart starting up…FEELING…wanting to put my arms around her…wanting to protect her…wanting to simply love her…My brain kicked in to counteract those feelings…stop it…you are on vacation…not your job…not your responsibility…you NEED this break…I emotionally took a step back to see how the situation might develop. The little Russian woman continued to try to convey what she wanted, and the employee continued to get uglier and uglier in her actions. The employee then “shushed” and waved the woman away, like she was a fly or insect. That was all it took for me. I swept into action, vacation or no vacation, it did not matter at that point. I leaned in to the employee, and in a voice that you hope you don’t EVER hear from me, said these words, “Give her the largest bag of popcorn that you have. Put a smile on your face as you are giving the popcorn to her, and THANK HER for her business! I will pay for it!! Do it NOW!” The employee hurriedly did exactly what I asked. As she was doing this, the cowboy leaned down and whispered in my ear, “Ma’am, if you had not done that, I was fixin’ to!” (Yes, cowboys ARE wonderful!!) The Russian woman realized what I had done, and followed me all the way to my gate, blowing kisses to me, with a big ole’ smile on her face. That is what my friends saw as I came back to my seat with their popcorn. I gave them all of their popcorn, and nobody said anything until we had “settled in.” They then all looked at me, and said, “What did you do this time?” My response? “Oh, you know me…It’s what I do…”

How can you NOT do a kindness for someone when it is well within your power to do so? Whether a person is old, young, middle-aged, poor, rich, in-between, what does it matter? The compassion and power to help others is something that lies within all of us. Some of us just act more readily when prompted. Amy Grant’s grandfather, A. M. Burton, made a statement years ago that went something like this: “Life is made up of golden chances, opportunities to do good. One lost is lost forever. If we miss doing a kindness to a friend, we can never do that kindness again. If we might speak a pleasant word, or offer a bit of worthwhile counsel or advice and fail to do so, we can never have just that opportunity again. Giving is a way of life.” How about joining me in giving as much as we can, whenever we can? It’s what we do! Just for this week…


“Sticks and stones…”

As kids, we all learned those old “comebacks” to win an argument: “Oh yeah? Well, your Mama…” “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah!” “I know you are, what am I?” And of course, the best one, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me!” As we grew older, we learned very quickly that words could indeed harm us. In his book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” Robert Fulghum gave us a new quote regarding “sticks and stones.” He writes, “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts.” I would like to add to that statement. Words will also break our spirit. I am sure you have guessed by now that the “power” for this week is WORDS.

At conferences, I am often asked to present a session entitled, “They’re ONLY Words…” In that presentation I tell of a little girl in the second grade. She was very tiny for her age, and had a “clubfoot.” (Also called congenital talipes equinovarus (CTEV), a congenital deformity involving one foot or both. The affected foot appears to have been rotated internally at the ankle. Without treatment, people with club feet often appear to walk on their ankles or on the sides of their feet.) In addition to this deformity, she had a “cauliflower ear” and could not hear very well with that ear. (Cauliflower ear is a condition that occurs when the external portion of the ear suffers a blow, blood clot or other collection of fluid under the perichondrium. As a result, the outer ear becomes permanently swollen and deformed, resembling a cauliflower.) I have told you the exact definition and descriptions of those two deformities because I want you to get a good visual image of this small child. This was quite a few years ago, before we had all of the latest technology to test someone’s hearing. The way they tested a child’s hearing in school went something like this: the teacher would call up one child at a time, whisper a phrase into their ear, and ask them to repeat the phrase they heard…all conducted in front of the entire class. The little girl remembered last year when this was done…how she was embarrassed and humiliated to have to go before the class, dragging her little foot, and hoping against hope that she could hear the phrase well enough to repeat it. I can just picture her…her heart pounding so loudly in that little chest that you would think it might explode…trying to remember to walk as straight as possible, not limp or drag her foot…and praying so hard that she might actually hear what the teacher would whisper in her ear. (I can never tell this story without tears springing to my eyes. I am such a visual person, and I can see this little girl in minute detail every time I recount this event. Even now, I am writing this with tears in my eyes.) So, it was time for her to walk up to the teacher. She took a little longer getting there than the rest of the children. As she was walking to the front of the class, she heard the comments: “retard,” “gimp,” “not right in the head…” Oh yes, she heard all of that!! She finally reached the teacher, turned her “good” ear to her, and tried to hide the tears already forming in her eyes. The teacher leaned down, scooped the child as closely in her arms as possible, and whispered tenderly to her, “I wish you were MY child!”  And right there, in that moment, those words made all the difference in the world to that child. Just from those few words, she discovered that she had worth and value; that someone wanted her…defects and all. Those words gave her hope!

I hear what people say to their children. I hear what people say to the people they supposedly love. I hear what people say to, and about, the people they work with. I hear what neighbors say about other neighbors. I hear what husbands and wives say to each other. I hear what children say to their parents. And my heart breaks over and over again. When did we become so cruel? When did we become so uncaring? Once a word is spoken, you can never take it back. There are no “do-overs.” You can never really correct it. Oh, you can apologize, but the memory, and that you said it in the first place, will ALWAYS be remembered. Words can absolutely destroy a person. Words can lift and encourage one’s  heart and spirit.

I always think that if this was the last time I saw a person, what words would I have left them with? Would the words be fault-finding, cruel, disrespectful, harmful, and destructive; or would the words be loving, comforting, encouraging? I want my words to be tender to the heart and soul…loving in every way. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

“I love all people….”

Happy New Year!! I hope that everyone has a year filled with hope, excitement, love, success, etc., etc., etc… (You catch my drift, right?) I hope that each of you attain your heart’s desire! And…it looks as if I am going to keep blogging past my one year’s commitment. We will just see how it goes…So, for now, keep checking in each week to learn of my latest adventures and/or misadventures…

Working in aging services, I have always questioned the credibility of certain tests and evaluations utilized to assess an individual in specific areas, especially those used for the assessment of cognition and mood state. I think the “scores” of said tests can label and stereotype an individual. The person becomes defined by how well, or how poorly, they did on the test. They  become a “score,” as opposed to maintaining their autonomy and individual  uniqueness. Because of professional standards of practice, and mandated requirements, I have given the Mini Mental Status Questionnaire more times than I can remember. I know all of the questions by heart. So when it came time for my own Mother to experience this test, I was anxious! I knew how the score would be used.

It was our very first visit to the neurologist, and I knew that they would need a “base scoreline” to determine the progression of her disease, as well as utilize the data to determine appropriate medications and treatment. She wanted me to stay in the room with her, so I got to listen as she responded to each query. If sheer will could have affected the outcome of the test, she would have scored 100% accuracy, simply on my nervous energy alone!! With each question, I would sit there, willing her to state the correct answer. In my head, I found myself trying to come up with suitable answers that would be convincing enough to assure someone that I had all of my faculties about me. Under duress, and immeasurable anxiety, it was a lot harder than you can imagine. I found that I was not really sure of the actual date, or the day of the week. I did know the year!

The last item of this test states, “Write a complete sentence.” Now, I’m sitting there, thinking and thinking…”what would be a good, intelligent sentence to write?” I pondered and pondered; however, my Mother wrote down a sentence almost immediately! That first test, she did rather well! On the drive back home, I asked Mother, “what sentence did you write down?” “I couldn’t think of anything!!” She laughed and said, “I just wrote, I sure hope I pass this test!” I was laughing so hard that I almost had to pull to the side of the road. How incredible a response!!!

As her disease progressed, the tests increased, and the scores began to worsen. She began to dread going to see the neurologist. She would ask, “Are they going to give me that test?” She knew that she was having more and more difficulty coming up with the correct answers. And we both knew what that meant…With each test, I was always interested in that very last directive – “write a complete sentence.” She never used the same answer twice, but with each test, her sentences became shorter and more simplistic. On this particular day, we did not know it, but it would be her last visit and her last test. As before, on the drive home, I asked what sentence she wrote. On this occasion, she smiled sweetly and said, “I love all people.” And there, in that one sentence, was the defining truth for my Mother, for she, in fact, DID love all people.

I wonder how many of us can remain true to who we are in the midst of physical and mental decline. That even when we are debilitated, and see the losses that are occurring, can we be certain that the “pure self” – who we really are on the inside – will be evident to us and  others? I want to live such a life, that even when, or if, I cannot direct my thoughts or actions, that my sweet spirit, and “true self” will come through naturally. For you see, just like my Mother, “I love all people.” Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

For me, it IS “Merry Christmas!”

This week’s post will not include a “story.” I’ve thought a lot about this topic, and have debated whether to voice my thoughts, but most of you who know me, know that I have never been one NOT to voice my thoughts. So…here are my “meanderings” for this week, and by the way, I do not mean to offend anyone with these musings…

Christmas, for me, is a time for celebration! It is the birthday of Jesus, an event that is integral to the foundation of my faith. I have watched over the years as religion and politics, along with “moral” outrage, have taken the forefront in whether we use an “X” in Christmas, or whether it is politically correct to say “Merry  Christmas!” I have always found it helpful to become more informed and educated about things that I do not know. I, myself, had issue with the “X” in “Christmas,” so I did some research a number of years ago. The following statement gives explanation the most succinctly: “It is said that when the Emperor Constantine had his great vision that caused him to convert to Christianity, he saw the Greek letters Chi and Rho intertwined. Chi is written as an ‘X’ and Rho is written as a ‘P’, but they are the first two letters of the Greek word Christ ‘savior’. ‘XP’ is sometimes used to stand for Christ. Sometimes X is used alone. This is the case in the Chi (X) abbreviation for Christ in Xmas.” Personally, I don’t think most commercial businesses realize that they are using the Greek letter for “Christ.” I think for them, it is simply being able to fit a message on a store window…However, it made me feel some better in having that knowledge.

Now, for the “Merry Christmas!” part… I understand that not everyone in the world is of the Protestant faith. I even “get” that when all of us end up at where we think we are going at the end of our earthly lives, there are going to be a LOT of different religions represented, and quite a few surprises….as in, “I didn’t think YOU would be here…” lol But when I say, “Merry Christmas,” I am sharing an important event in MY life with YOU! I mean no disrespect. I am not asking you to believe the same way that I do. I am simply sharing part of me with you. If someone were to say to me, “Happy Hanukkah,” I would respond, “and Happy Hanukkah to you!”…although I am not Jewish. It would not insult or offend me! I would think that this individual thought enough of me to share their faith with me. And on some small level, I would get to share their joy and celebration of that religious event. So, why am I not afforded the same respect and sensitivity? Why should I have to change my celebratory exclamation to “Happy Holidays!” You see, we live in America, where we are afforded the freedom to worship any way we desire! However, lately, I don’t seem to feel that freedom. Why is that? Here’s the way I look at it, if my saying “Merry Christmas!” is offensive,  it draws into question your religion and faith.

My faith teaches love of all people, acceptance, compassion, sensitivity, forgiveness, grace and understanding. What does it say of your religion if you get upset over my sharing a part of my faith and traditions with you? Why can’t we all be a little more tolerant of each other and our individual beliefs? Why can’t we see the similarities and positives in our lives, as opposed to the differences and negatives? Why can’t we be supportive and celebrate those important events in each others’ lives…yes, even those religious events? It takes nothing away from me or my faith to do so!

I wish for each of you the freedom and comfort to celebrate this time of year as you desire! For me, I will be celebrating a very special birthday…Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

Is she OK?

It has been a wonderful week! A brisk, “nip” to the air…hearing from old and new friends…celebrating life and renewal with those I love…What more could you ask for??? Hope your week was wonderful also!!

Because I travel a great deal, and because I find human beings to be so wonderfully odd, interesting, bizarre, motivating, frustrating….I do a lot of “people watching.” I try to figure out their “stories,” as I am observing from my “viewing seat.” I have been offended, reassured, surprised, disgusted, delighted, and my heart has been touched at times by the actions of other people…”casual strangers,” if you will…

Until recently (when a new grocery store opened closer to my home), I did most of my grocery shopping in town at a large franchise grocer. I will admit, on occasion, I did like to get one of their deli lunches and eat “on site,” before hitting the aisles for groceries. This particular store had an outside covered dining area that was very pleasant. A friend of mine had come with me on this trip, and we had decided to get us a bite to eat before shopping. As we were eating, we noticed a much older Asian woman sitting about two tables from us with her buggy and purse. She was not so much actually sitting at the table, as she was sleeping at the table. She would occasionally rouse up, look around and go back to sleep. Of course, with my background and field of work, she was like a “red flag” waving in front  of me, calling for my attention. Not wanting to assume that there was something wrong with her, or that she was lost and did not know where she was, I had observed her for a while to determine what my action should be. Before I could get up to check on her, a young lady came from inside the deli, and asked if she could sit down with the older woman. The woman said, “Yes.” I was interested in where the conversation and interaction was going, so I did indeed eavesdrop. 

The young lady, with kindness, respect, and empathy, began talking with the older woman. During their conversation, she found out all of the necessary information to determine if the elder woman was lost, in distress, or needed help or assistance of any kind. She spent a good amount of time with her, just “visiting.” She never exhibited any condescension, impatience, or lack of respect as she interacted with the older woman. Finally, after apparently being satisfied that nothing was amiss, the young lady took her leave, thanking the older woman for giving her time and conversation.  After a few minutes, the older woman rose from the table, got her buggy and purse, and approached the entry door back into the grocery store. We stood up to help open the door, and the woman started a conversation with us. She said with a chuckle, “You know, I think that young lady thought there was something wrong with me. I had come to shop for groceries, but it looked so nice out here, I thought I would just stop and rest for a moment. She was so sweet to check on me, but everything is fine.” I chuckled along with her and commented that wasn’t it nice someone cared enough “just to check on you.” You could tell that she was pleased at both the concern and the interaction that she had experienced.

The young lady could have handled this situation so much differently…she could have “fussed” at the older woman for napping at one of their tables…she could have assumed that the lady was lost, and could have insulted her…she could have assumed that because she was older, that she was not capable of making “sound” decisions…Any of these scenarios would have ended up badly, because there really wasn’t anything wrong with the woman. It made me wonder how others might have handled the situation. Do we automatically assume the worst, when we see that an older person is involved? Do we automatically assume that an older person needs our guidance, that they don’t know what to do and can’t make decisions? Do we automatically speak to them in that child-like, sing-song voice, as if they have no sense at all??? Oh my, I think many of our elders just chuckle to themselves, and humor us… As I teach in my sessions, don’t label a person by age, race, ethnicity, gender, geographic region, religion or medical diagnosis – just to name a few…Get to know the person individually, and give them the opportunity to show you “who they are,” and what their capabilities, strengths, and needs might be. Look at the person as an individual…a real, live human being, who should be treated with all the respect and dignity that you can provide. That’s what I do! Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

Act my age????


This week is my birthday week…so I have been reminded by many that it IS my birthday and, oh my, have we been celebrating!! Lots of good meals, getting together with friends, biking, hiking, and LOTS of LAUGHTER…I have never been one to be concerned with my age. After all, it is just a number. In fact, for two separate years, I actually was placing on documents and forms the wrong age…a year older…until a friend saw me do it, and reminded me of my current age. So…here are some “ponderings” on aging…

I have been asked many times, “When are you going to grow up, and act your age?” Oh, you mean like Nola Ochs, who at the age of 95, graduated from Ft. Hays State University in Kansas with a degree in History? Or like, Frances Woofenden of West Palm Beach, FL, who at age 81 was still competing (and winning in her age group) water skiing? That’s right…water skiing…Or like the woman, age 75, who was in line in front of me at Busch Gardens, with her daughter and granddaughter, waiting to board her last roller coaster of the day? (She had already ridden four, one of which was rated the #2 best roller coaster in the world!) Well…if that’s what you mean by acting my age, then yes! I will agree to do just that!! 

What is the deal with aging, in that once you reach a certain age, or “look” a certain age, everyone begins treating you a little differently? Like you have morphed into a totally different person! The only thing that has changed is that you have been around for one year longer! Most of us are very thankful for that! We do not need to be treated any differently. We have not just “all of a sudden” become “cute,” “adorable,” “sweet,” or “little” anything!!! Don’t be condescending! Most of us could leave a number of you “younguns” in the dust!! Don’t assume that all the cells in our brains are not firing properly! 

A friend of mine came to visit this past summer (she is two years younger than me). We had both been wanting to zip line, and I had found a wonderful one in the Smokies. Supposedly, the series of seven lines included one of the highest and longest in the United States. We could not wait!! We got there, and of course, we were the oldest ones in our group. Each time it was our turn to get “hooked up” on the line, the guide would say, “Come on up, young lady!” After about the third time, I had had enough! I very nicely turned around to our group and said, “See, another benefit of getting older…people say you are young all the time…” The guide never said those words to us again, and began treating us like the rest of the group members. And just as an aside, there were about fifteen people in our group, and we had to hike from one zip line to the next…straight up the mountain…My friend and I were always the first two to reach the next zip line, and we never broke a sweat or was labored in our breathing…unlike the rest of the “young” group!!

I get to teach this aging “concept” at a lot of conferences. I always tell people that if I was Cat Selman at ages 25, 35, 45, and 55…that I bet I will still be Cat Selman when I reach age 65 and 75!! I was at a recent conference where I had made that very statement. At break time I went into the restroom, and as I was washing my hands, I noticed that a woman kept staring at me pretty intently. She was staring to the point that I became uncomfortable and was wondering if I had toilet tissue hanging out of the back of my pants, or had lettuce stuck in my teeth, or ANYTHING!!! She finally came over to me and said, “You look marvelous! I cannot believe you are 75!!!” I looked at her with disbelief, and said, “that’s because I’M NOT 75!!!” But thanks for the compliment….

When I first started working in nursing homes, those precious elders would tell me, “I don’t feel old. I feel like I am still young.” I would always look at them and wonder, how can they not see that they have aged…that they really are old? I “get” what they are saying now. You DO feel the same, because you are the same…your body has just gotten a little more “worn for the wear.”

Let’s start treating older people just as we always have, because they are still the same individuals that we knew when they were younger. They are very unique, wonderful people who share a zest for life, with the experience of that lifetime, and always looking forward to the next adventure and challenge. So….I think I will act my age! Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

Are YOU talking to ME????

Throughout my career, I have had the pleasure of going to every state within the United States, with the exception of Alaska (on the bucket list…). Within each state I have found wonderful, caring people, who have been supportive and loving throughout the years. I have NEVER met anyone, from any part of the country, that “fit” a TV stereotype. I think that most people are inherently good and honest, and will treat you, and respond to you, in a like manner if you extend your own warmth and hospitality. However, I do have some stories…

We were traveling around the country on business in our motor home. We were in one of the states that won’t allow you to fill your own gas tank. You must wait in line, the attendant will motion when they are ready for you, you pull up, and they will fill your tank. We had been driving for quite a while, and as we were motioned up to our “spot,” I got out to stretch my legs and talk with the female attendant. As we were talking, a couple in a convertible BMW whipped out of line, went ahead of several other cars, and pulled into the spot right in front of our motor home. As they did this, the attendant said something under her breath very derogatory about the persons in the car, and their actions. The female passenger in the car heard the comments, and thought I had said them. She almost did not wait for the car to stop…she hopped out with a look of pure hatred and anger on her face…and strode right up in front of me. She did not even give me a chance to say hello or any other type of greeting. She began “cussing” me up one side and down the other. As I stood there listening to her ranting and raving, I began to get angry myself, and thought, “just who does she think she is?” and “I did not do or say anything…” So as she was ranting and raving, I realized I had a choice. I could get caught up in her anger and negativity, and let it ruin the rest of the trip for me, OR I could have a little fun with the situation. 

When she got through with her tirade, I looked at her kinda perplexed and went into my “dumb Southerner routine….” (You already know I have a southern drawl, but did you know I can ACCENTUATE that particular “asset” when necessary?) I looked at her for a moment and said, “Ma’am, Ah am soooo sorry, but Ah dint quite ketch whut you sed. Cud you tell me agin so I can get it?” She was so startled that she began repeating everything again!! She was so upset, spittle was spewing forth from her mouth! When she got through with the second tirade, I scratched my head, a little like Forrest Gump, and said, “Ma’am, Ah don’t mean to be stoopid, but Ah still dint get everthin you sed. If youns would tell me one more time, I promise to concentrate really hard and try to get what your sayin.” She threw up her hands and walked off! As she walked off, under my breath, I said, “Got cha’!” It has been a good story and a lot of laughs throughout the years.

Every day we make choices about how we will act or respond to others. Some times they get the best of us, and drag us down to their level. Other times we take the higher road and choose not to let the other person impact our day negatively. Understand this, you are ALWAYS in control of your reactions and responses. You are the only person making the choice. I don’t know about you, but I will NOT be driven to make choices that are not my own. My actions will NOT be determined by another person…that will ALWAYS be up to me! I think I will continue to take the “high road.” I will sleep better each night, and I will always have something to laugh about. Won’t you join me? Just for this week….