It’s taken a surprisingly…embarrassingly long time for me to connect the dots for this article. About half an hour ago, Pamela said something which set into motion my connecting several seemingly unrelated events. Once it started, it just kept going. Pam said the following, rather offhandedly during dinner: “Barbra Streisand was wrong.” I stopped chewing and took a sip. I said, “Excuse me?” Pam said, “Granted, it was a great song. It sounds wise. But she’s got it backwards. ” Then Pamela sang the first two lines: “People, people who need people…are the luckiest people in the world. It’s just the opposite, Henry. People who are needed are the luckiest people in the world. The needy ones…they need some help. They need food or money or love, heating oil or an operation.”
What was strange was that one statement, yanked a lynch pin inside my brain and a whole slew of seemingly unrelated events began to unfold. First one:
Jane, the British gal at our pharmacy. Her husband has been on a remote business assignment for a very, very long time. With him gone, I empathized that it must be a real bitch having to take care of her farm and her horses, one of which is quite old. She smiled politely, yet oddly. “That’s not exactly right,” she said. “The horses are what’s getting me through this.” The words registered…but they didn’t really sink in at the time.
This year, Pamela got hammered, first with potentially lethal cancer…then with lymphedema. We made it through the cancer together, raised our heads to get a breath…and got hammered with the lymphedema. Unlike ever before in our decades together, Pam really, truly, permanently needs me now. No b.s. The things she needs now she can’t do herself. I think Pam was surprised just how quickly and completely I stepped up to the plate. I told her I’m in it for the long, very long haul…the longest. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this wasn’t completely altruistic. At this point in my life, feeling needed is…. Words kind of escape me. It’s reason enough for me to live.
Dog people: We have three small furry members in our family. Scootie, Gigi and Moose. They need us 1000%. They know it and we know it, too. What isn’t so obvious is what they give us in return. Having had all kinds of breeds in my life, we finally hit the one that blows us away every single hour of the day.
The Bostons can not survive your being angry with them for even an instant. You must make up immediately or they wilt. Their raison d’etre is to make you laugh, and to protect. If you’re sad, they’re the first to sense it and to take action. And feeling needed by these little people in funny black-and-white dog suits is just wondrous. We talk to people who say having dogs is, “too much work, too much hassle.” They are missing out on the cheapest, best, most life-changing opportunity they could have. We need these pups as much or more than they need us. The farting…it’s still worth it 1000 times over. The above image is something Pamela cobbled together on PhotoShop from an old photo. It captures who they are.
Grandchildren: I think for many couples, grandchildren supply them with what our pups supply us with. Candor, humor, feeling needed, feeling unequivocally loved. Bravo and Brava. Won’t argue that one…except…we know that deep, deep down, you love having those grandkids over for a day…and then they’re gone!!!! With our pups, we want ’em around us 24 hours a day. They don’t talk back and they are always funny. Possibly you can have both???
A small but important revelation: I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have a mild degree of manic-depressive-ness inside me. I harness it. I use it. But I also suffer at times. Four days ago, I felt that old familiar feeling, throat tightening, everything dimming in my mind, feeling sorry for myself. Once that happens, it’s like a storm coming in and there’s not much you can do. You batten down and wait for it to pass through you.
This time, however, Pam was having some trouble with her lymphedema symptoms. She seriously needed a body massage and a forty-minute leg wrapping and she needed it right then. We went upstairs. I massaged. We talked. I wrapped. It helped…a lot. We hugged and as I stood up I realized that the “storm” had, for the first time, just passed over me. It was gone. Feeling needed, truly needed wiped out the depression almost instantly.
I could easily scroll back over the past year and see the places where I’ve been happy. There’s a direct, connect-the-dots correlation. I’m happy when I’m helping out, feeling like I’m doing something worthwhile. It’s terrific symbiosis. In helping, I am helped.
And I know personally that many of you help out in a wide variety of ways. If you have a moment, share them with our readers. You may help someone a lot more than you know.
Retiring: I’ve mentioned this in previous essays. For men in particular, retiring is a surprisingly dangerous time. All your life you’ve been needed, as a man and as a bread-winner. Much of that stops when you retire. For your own benefit, make yourself needed. Make yourself indispensable. I absolutely guarantee you, you’ll be twice as happy, possibly more.
Our relationship: Who? What? Am I talking to you? Yes, YOU! If there were a way I could embed a small (functioning) mirror inside this blog for you to look into, I’d do it now. I spend more time than I’d like to admit each week, trying to come up with something that might help each of us. No one sends me a check for this, no slaps on the back. But once in a while someone writes in and says something like, “Hey…I forwarded your article to my buddy” or “I showed this to my husband, or my wife ” or (this one nailed me): “I took your advice and brought in my Dad’s favorite music who has Alzheimers. It really helped!!! It was as if he woke up. Thanks.” When I get a letter like that, it’s the biggest payment in the world. Better than bucks by far. So thank each and every one of you. With your e-mails, you make it all worthwhile. Thank you.
People, people who are needed…are the luckiest people…in…the…world….
Apologies for an unusually long P.S. If some of the above shots look a bit strange this week, Pam and I are experimenting with a small new hobby. It happened fortuitously. When my mom died, there were precious few photographs of her. Not much I could do. But a long-time friend by the nickname of Mo from the olden days sent me a picture of my mom when he’d flown up for Pam’s and my wedding. It was a good shot, but it was damaged. With micro-micro surgery I got it passable. In doing so, it was as if I was scraping cobwebs from my memory. It was pretty heavy for me.
We went on together to save some other shots that were otherwise lost. Then we took an old photograph of one of my furry buddies and….made an impressionistic “painting” out of it. Strangely, it’s better than the photo. Here’s the lost but repaired shot of my Mom. She was much prettier than the photo and a world-class classical pianist. Love you, Mom.