by Annette van de Kamp-Wright
Jewish Press Editor
I recently read Claire Flatowicz’ book, Seeing the World through Rose-colored Trifocals. After only a few pages, I already noticed a massive problem. As Claire speaks about getting older, being retired, having grandchildren… well, she’s obviously not talking to me.
I am only 44 years old, so I cannot relate. I refuse. I still have a child in elementary school, for goodness sakes. And I’m certainly not in need of putting a dry erase board next to the shower to write down all my brilliant ideas before I forget them.
Never mind that I keep a pen in my car so I can write things on the back of my hand when I’m at a red light. Never mind that I can no longer function without reading glasses, or have to ask my 14-year-old for help when my smart phone acts up. Or when Netflix doesn’t work. Or, well, anything technological, really.
“It seems that everything needs to be written down for me,” Claire writes. “Here are a few questions I get asked regularly by my husband: Did you get my prescription at Walgreens? Did you get me milk/fruit/bread at the store? Did you deposit my check at the bank?
“Did you write it down? is always my comeback.”
So what if that sounds just like me? Yes, I write everything down. And yes, send me to the store without my list and I will come back with 20 things we don’t need, forgetting the three things we do, but that happens to everybody. Doesn’t it?
Then, she writes:
“It’s wonderful being at the age that the only one I really have to please is myself!”
I definitely can’t relate to that. I have kids, and kids need things. They need packed lunches and rides and doctor’s appointments and help with science projects. They need to be reminded that they own a toothbrush, and that dirty plates don’t walk themselves from the table to the dishwasher. They grow out of their clothes at a dizzying speed and can never remember where they left their homework or wintercoat or swim bag.
But I keep reading, because I can’t seem to put that book down, and I slowly start to realize: this is not about being older, it’s about getting there. Age is not a number; it’s a process. And whether I like it or not, I am on that treadmill just like Claire, just like all of us. Once I reach the end of the book, I have learned that there is great value in listening to someone who is approximately two decades ahead of me. Rather than fight it, I can tell myself: I’ll get there someday, and that’s okay.
Not everything Claire writes has to do with aging. In the below column, which was previously published in the Omaha World Herald around Thanksgiving, she addresses the 2014 shootings in Overland Park:
“I was in Overland Park almost two weeks ago and attended the Interfaith Service of Unity and Hope at the JCC. Over 1,300 people of all religious denominations attended. Clergy from different faiths along with Eric Holder, US Attorney General, spoke.
“The service focused on the power of love and unity to combat hatred and evil. (…) I remembered my father telling me how he was taken away on Kristallnacht, and taken to the Dachau concentration camp. I thought of my father-in-law who was in four different concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen. (…) I am typically apolitical. I generally don’t care much about the politics around the world. But when it comes to human rights, I do care.”
Perhaps the best way to summarize Claire’s book is to call it a conversation. A conversation that is familiar, that covers a number of topics that are all important to us at different phases in our lives, and a conversation that the reader is welcome to join any time.
Of course, a book written by someone familiar always reads a little differently and seems more accessible. We know the places as well as the people she mentions, and that leaves less to the imagination. The author isn’t talking at us, she is talking with us.
It’s why it totally works when she writes about flabby arms in one chapter, and about Auschwitz in another. She can go from her shoe-addiction to funerals, from getting pulled over on her way to a grandchild’s birth to her own children’s medical challenges. That’s how conversations are supposed to work, we sit down with a cup of coffee and cover the heavy stuff that happens in our lives, as well as the hilarious.