October was a month of good news and bad news – all longevity related.
For the past ten years, the service manager at the Jeep dealership has offered to buy my Jeep Grand Cherokee. I bought it new in 1994. It has 200,000 miles on the odometer and once hit a deer at 70mph in the middle of the Nevada desert. The service manager says he’s never seen a car so well maintained. That’s the good news.
The bad news is, even though I love my Jeep, it’s reached an age where the manufacturer no longer stocks replacement parts. When something goes wrong, it’s not easy to fix it. The onboard computer tells me my windshield washer fluid is low, my rear taillight has failed and my 4WD switch need service. None of these is fatal or true, but the parts are unavailable. My trusty Jeep is living on borrowed time.
On the human side, technology is going the other direction. The older we get more replacement parts there are – heart valves, hip joints, knees, stents, chips, etc. As I’m writing this, on the 3rdfloor of the Swedish Orthopedic Institute in Seattle, M is down the hall recovering from a hip replacement – her second in two years.
Today, she traded in the hip she was born with for a shiny bright ceramic/titanium replacement. The bad news is the original was worn out. The good news is that a skilled surgeon with a toolbox of high tech replacement parts can swap out the old and slip in the new in about an hour.
For the past five years, M has been limited as a walker and cyclist by hips that looked like Belgian lace. They simply couldn’t handle the load. She’s tough, tougher than I am mentally, but when her body broke down tough wasn’t enough. Last year’s replacement was a great improvement and, now, with two state-of-the-art hips, we’re hoping to be on our bikes and back on the road by the spring of ’20.
Sometimes it’s not possible to find symmetry in the aging process, but when we can it’s worth the effort. I’ve been able to ride and hike for the last couple of years while she has not. It’s meant I had to cut back and she felt guilty about a condition she had no control over. We’re never going to be the world traveling bikers we were 10 years ago, but when we can ride together on the amazing bike trails in the western US it gives us great shared pleasure. We’re looking forward to more of that now that she’s bionic.
Still, as we grow older, we are reminded that there is an end – an abrupt end – to life. We all reach a point where the wheels on the bus don’t go round and round. No state of the art replacement parts are available when the life cycle comes to its end.
Last weekend we went to two memorial/celebrations for friends whose lives had reached that ultimate human destination. And, again there is bad news and good news. The bad news is we were left grieving the loss of two friends. The good news is that both were musicians, and their families chose to honor them in musical ways.
Ann Redman Chiller was a childhood friend of M’s and mine. We were classmates from junior high school through college, and her two sons, Dave and Tom, elected to celebrate their Mom’s passing by hiring a blues/roots band that featured their cousin, Robert, on bass and Mark Riley, winner of 22 “Best Blues Guitarist” awards from the Washington Blues Society. Ann played piano and loved Van Morrison and Bob Dylan, so it was great to be able to celebrate her passing with friends, free flowing wine, and a driving beat.
The other passage was Steven Demorest, the husband of my good friend, Karen Tollenar Demorest, a former colleague at the Alliance for Education. Steve was a full professor of choral music at Northwestern University (formerly at the University of Washington), and though his was a more reserved event because his cancer death at age 60 was so unexpected, but it was celebrated with the music he loved. His former colleagues and students arranged an event at the UW School of Music that featured a movement of Mozart’s Requiem, an a capella version of Dan Fogelberg’s Leader of the Band arranged by his daughter Claire, and a community sing along of How Can I Keep from Singing.
More bad news and good news: M and I often speak about “being in the zone.” That’s the bad news, but the zone is not rigidly defined, and with luck, good replacement parts and the music we love, we could manage to stick around for a while longer. That’s our good news.
At times like these, I’m reminded of the poet George Herbert’s remark,“Living Well is the Best Revenge.” We’re living well now. That’s enough; we’re not looking for revenge.