Running the Campus

NECC President Lane Glenn shares stories and perspectives on leadership, higher education, and going the extra mile

Aging, Family, Generations, Lane Glenn, Running the Campus

True Grit

I’m at the stage of life when the kids are older and mostly out on their own, and some of the attention I used to save for them is now devoted to time spent with aging parents.

Through a combination of strong genes, modern medicine, and a myriad of life experiences, like adoption and reunion, divorce and remarriage, my wife and I are fortunate to have seven variations of parents, all over 75 years old, in our lives.

From time to time, in different combinations, we get together for Sunday dinner, out boating or skiing, at family celebrations or, more often these days, at visits to the doctor.

Just as we learned important lessons from them about growing up when we were younger, we have the opportunity to learn important lessons from them about aging now that we ourselves are growing older.

There’s a lot to learn, we are grateful to them, and while much of it can be daunting and difficult, it is also encouraging to see the many ways that wisdom truly does come with age.

In his beautiful meditation on his own aging experience, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old, Parker Palmer, now 85 years old, writes:

Age brings diminishments, but more than a few come with benefits. I’ve lost the capacity for multitasking, but I’ve rediscovered the joy of doing one thing at a time. My thinking has slowed a bit, but experience has made it deeper and richer. I’m done with big and complex projects, but more aware of the loveliness of simple things: a talk with a friend, a walk in the woods, sunsets and sunrises, a night of good sleep.

I have fears, of course, always have and always will. But as time lengthens like a shadow behind me, and the time ahead dwindles, my overriding feeling is gratitude for the gift of life.

Parker palmer

That “gratitude for the gift of life” is abundant in our family.

It certainly runs strong in my adoptive father, a career Marine battling Parkinson’s Disease who now lives in a nearby nursing home, and it was a powerful force in my adoptive mother, Judy, who passed away ten years ago today.

Visiting Dad this weekend, we looked at pictures of Mom and our family from years ago, and I reminded him of places we used to live, and Mom’s amazing strength, resilience, and gratitude for the gift of life.

Back in 2012, before I began writing these “Running the Campus” blog posts, I started sending out “Weeklies,” emails to the campus and community that usually included something about what was happening at NECC that week, a perspective on a big issue facing higher education, and a short story about my young daughters, who were known back then as “Big Sis T and Little Sis Z.”

A few of those early “Weeklies” are still in the Archives of “Running the Campus.”

On the way home from visiting Dad, I remembered this story I wrote about Mom, shortly before she passed away on May 5, 2014:

True Grit

Think you’re tough?  

Then you’ve never met my mother.

Our family tree has a lot of branches, so Big Sis T and Little Sis Z have known eight living grandparents.  Those grandmas and grandpas cover a range of personalities and virtues—gentle and kind, disciplined and dutiful, boisterous and optimistic, adventurous and resourceful.  The roster includes three military veterans who served in the Vietnam War, a former New Hampshire juvenile justice system caseworker, and a retired junior high math teacher turned part-time farmer, but none of them (and no one else I’ve ever known) is as tough as Grandma Judy.

Back in 1985, when she was 45 years old and I was finishing high school in Oklahoma, Mom had a massive stroke that left her struggling to speak and partly paralyzed.

Months of therapy and rehabilitation helped her regain some of her voice and movement.  She would never work outside the house or drive a car again, but eventually she was up and around, chasing and scolding her rascally teenage son.

But the stroke, we all soon found out, was only the beginning of her health challenges.  It was followed by years of chronic pain, a massive brain tumor, breast cancer, a major heart attack, and several other ailments—each one a few years apart and taking its own toll on her increasingly fragile body.

Throughout all of it, though, her spirit, her will—her toughness—has never wavered.  She has been to the edge and back more times than any of us would like to think about (and in more ways than most ordinary people could survive).  Yet somehow, every time things seem at their bleakest, Mom puts on her rally cap, bounces back, and marches (or hobbles, or rolls, or whatever she needs to do) out the door and back home again.

And you better not get in her way.

She and my father live just north of Houston, and although she has suffered wave after wave of disease, injury, and affliction like some kind of Texan Job, in every Sunday evening phone call I’ve had with Mom over the years you’d think she was the luckiest, happiest woman on earth. 

No complaints—ever.

Fortitude like that does come with a price sometimes.  After her last major heart attack, she left the rehabilitation hospital a bit too soon, and ended up dismissing her in-home therapists and visiting nurses.  Even though she was wheelchair-bound, only had one working arm, could barely swallow, and couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of her, she insisted that those nurses should go help people “who really need it.”

The road signs around Houston are right:  Don’t Mess with Texas.

Mom may have the spirit of a 20-year-old rodeo bull rider, but her body has been thrown from the saddle a few too many times, and parts of it are wearing out.  Last week, she had open-heart surgery to replace a valve that wasn’t keeping up with her, and as I’m writing this, she is napping in a hospital bed across the room from me, resting in between physical therapy treatments and John Wayne movies on her Kindle.

So far, we’ve watched Cahill and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Next up, our favorite classic Western: True Grit

Mom has another long road ahead of her.  It’s not going to be easy, but if anyone can make it, I know she can.  

The Duke may be playing the part of one-eyed, tough-as-nails U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn, but for all his rugged swagger, he’s got nothing on Grandma Judy.

Theme by Anders Norén