I approach my 80th birthday as I write. Yet, when I try to come to terms with this event — How did I get here? What have I accomplished and what have I lost? What do I do with the time I have left? — the lives and losses of others keep intruding.
For example, Denver Holocaust survivor, Jack Adler. I stand in awe as I listen to Adler’s CPR interview with Ryan Warner: Adler, 88, celebrates two birthdays, the first in 1929 when he was born, the second in 1945, when he was liberated from Dachau by the United States Army. The only Holocaust survivor of his family, Adler spends much of his life educating others about the Holocaust at schools and military bases.
Then I am reminded of the personal friend whose adult son just died in in a foreign country. An unspeakable horror. And, of course, there are the ever-presenting sorrows of compatriots my own age whose spouses are declining or dying, their own health and abilities fading.
One woman, age 90, recently moved to assisted living with her husband, age 91. She could have stayed in their Senior Center apartment and simply visited him there, but she did not. “I have slept with this man for 60 years,” she says with fierce loyalty and determination. “I’m not going to stop now!”
Just today, Denver artist and tennis champion, Mark Luna, honored me with a painting of his, paying tribute to his mother, the late Jessica Martinez Luna, a feminist “sister” of mine in the mid-1970s.
I visited Jessica regularly in 1982 when I was recovering from breast cancer and she was dying of another cancer at age 46. Her favorite topics: Sex, power and politics. What would Jessica’s life have been like if she had lived? Somehow I see her marching with me in the Washington D.C. Women’s March Jan. 21. No doubt she would be waving a colorful “anti-Trump” sign, yelling unprintable epithets, but laughing while doing it.
How do I dare compare my 80-year-old life and challenges with any of these who now parade before me, some facing new issues as they age? Others living, or having lived, lives full of loss or trauma, or not lived at all?
“You live a charmed life,” said my best Colorado friend when we were still in our late 40s. She said it kindly, but I became defensive. After all, I had been devastated by the sudden death of my 60-year-old father, laid low by post partum depression, both when in my 30s, then scared witless by breast cancer when I was 44. Didn’t sound “charmed” to me.
But more than 30 years later, I do live a charmed — perhaps blessed — life. And I am grateful, knowing full well that trauma, loss and heartbreak could come at any moment. So, why does it matter if only half of my political and professional goals have been realized? That creaky knees and minor ailments increasingly assault my flexibility and energy?
Being a Gemini, will my dominant Type-A “twin” call me toward continued engagement to make the world a better place, or will the recessive, pleasure seeking, “twin” simply tell me to enjoy the world as it is?
Suddenly, another late, great friend pops up in my mind. It’s Sue O’Brien, my former editor and mentor at the Denver Post, who died at age 64 in 2003 of colon cancer. “Get your butt in gear, Lamm!” O’Brien says. “You’re lucky to have more healthy years, so use them!” Yup, that’s the way I was leaning, but I needed a shove.
At least for a while, however, I will indulge in my blessings – my partner in a 54-year marriage still filled with love and laughter, a sister to whom I am as close as our late mother could have dreamed, two grown children and their spouses all of whom are better parents than we were, four “perfect” grand kids – and just “kick back” with that fabulous family.
And with my friends! Friends, always there for me, whom I neglected dreadfully through the intense years of political strivings and career yearnings. Friends, some of whom presently need me more than the world does; others whom I just want to grab a lunch, a beer, or a coffee with – right now, while there’s still time.
Dottie Lamm is former first lady of Colorado, wife of former Gov. Dick Lamm, and the 1998 Colorado Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. She is a retired social worker and a recovering politician.