Professor Chris Palmer, School of Communication

“Don’t seek comfort; rather seek something to be passionate about.”

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  • A Lovely Gift from my Family as a 65th Birthday Gift 

    FYI, here is a wonderful gift my family gave me on my 65th birthday last August. It’s a sort of pre-death eulogy!




  • It’s Time to Rethink Tenure 

    Thought you might find interesting my article criticizing tenure in today’s Inside Higher Ed.

    The comments from readers are insightful and worth reading (and for the most part are critical of my article).

    Here is the link:

    Below is the opening:

    It’s Time to Rethink Tenure

    November 16, 2012 – 3:00am

    By Chris Palmer

    I arrived at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in the fall of 1972 knowing nothing about how American universities worked. As a Kennedy Scholar from Britain, I selected classes for my master’s degree based on the issues I wanted to study, paying scant attention to which professors taught the course. This was Harvard, after all, and I assumed all the teachers were competent.

    I decided to take an economics course. The topic was highly germane to what I imagined at the time was my future career in the British government. Unfortunately, the course was taught by a professor who I quickly realized was past his prime.

    The professor, whom I shall, out of respect, call by the pseudonym Professor Smith, was doddery, unproductive, and uninterested in student learning. Yet, because he had tenure, he was guaranteed his job for the rest of his life, despite his shortcomings. He continued to receive a substantial salary and occupy a position that should have been held by someone with much higher pedagogical standards and with much more to offer students.

    Forty years have passed since I arrived at Harvard, but in the world of tenured professors, little has changed. Today, as a non-tenured member of the full-time faculty at the School of Communication at American University (with a renewable five-year contract), I better understand the complexities of this longstanding system. While tenure still has some benefits, it also has flaws that are hurting the quality of education that students receive. I believe it is time for a frank discussion about whether universities can afford to maintain the status quo. In my opinion, we cannot. It is time to rethink tenure…read more


  • The Best and Worst of Wildlife Films 

    here’s the link for my recent speech on the best and worst of wildlife films given at the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital.


  • Did David Attenborough Behave Unethically? 

    Did David Attenborough Behave Unethically?

    By Chris Palmer

    December 24, 2011

    Earlier this month, the Daily Mirror in Great Britain revealed that famed zoologist David Attenborough, for his 7-part television series Frozen Planet, filmed polar bears in a zoo while leading viewers to believe that the animals were filmed in the subzero Arctic wilderness.

    The Daily Mirror scoop led to negative publicity for the BBC, including a damaging investigation by the Sunday Telegraph.

    While the narration by Attenborough is technically accurate, the powerful imagery seduced viewers into thinking that the cubs were wild, not captive, and that they were filmed in their natural habitat, not in an artificially constructed den in a zoo.

    The BBC does explain clearly on the series’ website how the zoo footage was shot. But comparatively few people will see that because few viewers will explore the companion website, and the explanatory clip is buried in lots of other stories.

    The “behind the scenes” short film that concludes the program contains no mention of the manipulation.

    The truth is out there, but only if viewers are willing to make the effort to find it.

    David Attenborough is deservedly a towering and revered figure. He is a brilliant journalist, trusted zoologist, broadcasting pioneer, and fascinating writer. His credibility is unequalled and the world rightly honors him for his educational and conservation accomplishments. He has made amazing contributions to saving the natural world and teaching people about its value, and he devoted the 7th program of Frozen Planet to climate change, when many networks and other on-air hosts would never be brave enough to do that. (According to press reports, the Discovery Channel in the US seriously toyed with the idea of not broadcasting the 7th program.)

    Frozen Planet is a documentary, not a movie. Viewers expect what they see to be genuine, authentic, and truthful. But the BBC was correct to film tiny polar bear cubs and their mother in a zoo. It is impossible to capture that footage in a real den in the wild. To even attempt that would be egregiously irresponsible. No one is suggesting that this should have been attempted. No one should harass polar bears in the wild.

    While I commend the BBC for revealing the truth on their website, I think the network should have been even more transparent. The BBC’s own editorial guidelines state that when using captive animals to obtain footage (because it is unsafe or impractical to film something in the wild), “we must never claim that such sequences were shot in the actual locations depicted in the film.” By failing to disclose the zoo setting on the screen, the BBC violated this guideline.

    When file footage is used (as in this case), it is best to add some small text, low in the frame, with words such as “zoo footage” or “file footage.” This would have avoided the situation in which viewers felt let down and misled when the truth emerged in newspaper articles. Such text would only need to be on the screen for a few opening seconds of the footage.

    Had the BBC added this small text, there might have been a slight diminution of the “atmosphere” for the viewer. Attenborough has been quoted as justifying the staging on the grounds that the experience for viewers would be diminished if they were told the footage was shot in a zoo. But such feelings would be minor compared to the feelings of dismay when viewers read the story in the press and realize, contrary to their understanding from watching the program, the polar bears cubs were captive and controlled.

    Labeling the zoo footage would also have reminded viewers that the BBC has the highest possible standards and that everything not so labeled (virtually the whole film) was filmed in the wild under severe and punishing conditions worthy of applause and acclamation.

    An alternative option would be to run a prominent disclaimer in the end credits. For example, “A few scenes were filmed under controlled conditions.”

    Will this incident encourage viewers to question the rest of what they see in Frozen Planet? Will they wonder if other sequences are staged, fraudulent, or faked in some way? The danger is that viewers might become cynical and stop paying attention to the important messages in these programs, messages about the need to conserve our natural resources.

    The BBC has high ethical standards compared to other networks and it attaches importance to scientific accuracy and to not disturbing animals when filming. Hopefully the BBC will continue to serve as a model for other networks. Fakery, manipulation, and staging is common in wildlife films, including the use of phony sound, animals from game farms, sets to film small animals and birds, computer graphics, and more.

    As for the zoo footage, it warrants a discussion, but not histrionics. It’s a minor blemish on Attenborough’s supremely good record. Did he behave unethically? The incident is too small to warrant such a harsh judgment. Nevertheless, in documentaries, staged footage should be labeled as such to ensure that the trust between filmmakers and their audiences remains strong.

    Note: Frozen Planet recently aired in the UK, and it debuts in the US on the Discovery Channel on March 18.


  • The BBC is accused of routinely faking wildlife footage 

    “The BBC is accused of routinely faking footage in wildlife documentaries, by using studio sets, sound effects and tame animals to portray creatures in the wild.” (from today’s Sunday Telegraph in Great Britain—includes quote from me)


  • Updated Personal Mission Statement 

    For your interest, here is my personal mission statement, which I have just updated:

    I want to be remembered by my family, friends, and colleagues as a person grounded in decency, simple goodness, infectious vitality, and inspiring enthusiasm. As someone with a lasting and wonderful marriage, a great sense of humor, and a strong work ethic. As a man who made his role and responsibilities as a father and grandfather one of his highest priorities. As a person who committed himself to learning and education and who pursued his accomplishments with passion, which left the world a better place.

    I will live a principle-centered life, committed to personal improvement and devoted to my family and to my role as a husband, father, and grandfather. I will be a wise, dynamic, and inspirational leader whether as a father, grandfather, professor, filmmaker, environmentalist, animal welfare advocate, author, speaker, or NGO leader.

    I will not let circumstances, feelings, old habits, or past conditioning determine my response to challenges. Rather, I will live according to the commitments and values I have articulated in this Personal Mission Statement, including continuous, constant, and never-ending improvement in all the domains of my life, both personal and professional.

    I will set and achieve ambitious goals. I will raise my productivity to extraordinarily high levels. I will find serenity while accomplishing great results.

    I will continue learning that all true and lasting change occurs from the “inside out.” Instead of trying to change a situation or person, I will look to myself first for change. I will become the change I want to see in the world and improve myself before I try to improve others.

    I have organized my Personal Mission Statement into seven roles (or responsibilities) described below. In my weekly planning, I will fill the upcoming week with activities and meetings which are derived directly and explicitly from these seven roles.

    First, my role as a person who recognizes the importance of renewal and self-development: The first and most important role in my life is renewal and self-development, the vital process of enhancing my capacity to make me a more effective and fulfilled person. I have to take care of myself before I can take care of anybody or anything else. This role encompasses four dimensions: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.

    Physical: I will exemplify peak vitality and outstanding health. My 60-minute-plus daily exercise regimen (see Dad’s Exercise Book for details) focuses on strength, endurance, flexibility, balance, and posture. I will feel vibrant and have the energy to take care of my family, friends, and colleagues. I will move as much as possible to an organic, plant-based diet to avoid malnourishment and toxic food.

    Social/Emotional: In both my work and personal life, I cannot do anything without other people. Relationships are not just vital, they are everything. I want to feel deeply connected to my family and friends, to make real and authentic contact with people, and to seek first to understand, then to be understood. I will be a source of laughter, fun, learning, and inspiration to people, and I will be loyal to those absent.

    I will build my relationships with other people, especially the people I am closest to, by being trustworthy and by being sincere. I will do this by small kindnesses and courtesies, keeping promises, making offers, clarifying and honoring expectations, and displaying integrity and loyalty. I will do these things unconditionally and sincerely, expecting nothing in return. I will observe and draw attention to what people are doing right, and I will praise with specificity.

    When I have a problem with somebody, I will focus on how I am contributing to that problem, and what I am doing to help create it. Problems are, in fact, opportunities to build relationships with people faster than usual.

    When I listen to people, I tend to interpret their words and feelings to fit my own opinions and experiences – as if I know the inner terrain of the person when, in fact, I don’t. I will develop the skill and habit of empathy. I will learn to listen to people’s unspoken concerns and learn to do this without making judgments or giving advice. I will place myself within the other person’s frame of reference in order to experience his or her feelings as that person experiences them. I will deeply understand the other person’s point of view. In fact, I will attempt to express the other person’s point of view better than he or she can.

    Mental: One of the secrets of a successful and fulfilling life is continuous learning. I am committed to continuous learning and improvement, and thus to continually opening up new possibilities for others and for me. I will find mentors and drink deeply from inspiring books. I will read for at least two hours daily. Because the best way to learn is to teach, I will constantly teach others what I am learning.

    I will learn the distinction between “opinions” and “grounded assessments.” When I offer opinions, I will make it clear they are just opinions and worth little. Grounded assessments, unlike opinions, generate new possibilities for people. They also lead to action (i.e., a request, an offer or a promise), they are confined to a specified domain, they can be supported by factual evidence, and they are based on clear and articulated standards.

    Spiritual: I will find joy in designing the meaning and purpose of my life, including having close and loving relationships full of grace, unselfishness, and forgiveness. I will create extraordinary results and fulfillment. I will learn, listen, love, laugh, and leave a legacy. My life must be fulfilling and meaningful in order to make sense. I will align my daily activities with my most important goals and thereby honor all the people who have loved and helped me.

    I will live by the timeless principles of human conduct that are fundamental to living a satisfying and joyful life, including fairness, integrity, honesty, service, courage, patience, self-discipline, compassion, responsibility, generosity, hard work, creativity, and tenacity. In this way, I will create a life of purpose, passion, joy, adventure, and love.

    Second, my role as a husband: Being a husband is one of the most important roles I have in my life. It is the foundation of our family’s happiness. I will do everything I can to help Gail lead the fulfilling and vibrant life that she dreams for herself. I will be loving, affectionate, considerate, gentle, conscientious, devoted, reliable, supportive, and fun. I will cherish the daily routines of the wonderful life we have together, and I will coddle and pamper her. I will be an extraordinary husband, best friend, and partner to Gail and a source of love, joy, fun, compassion, and wisdom.

    One of the legacies Gail and I will leave is a strong family whose members love and care for each other, respect each other, laugh together, have fun together, grow together, enjoy meaningful relationships with each other, and who have a deep sense of shared vision around our family’s essential meaning and purpose.

    Third, my role as a father and grandfather: I will be the best father possible to Kim, Tina and Jen, giving them constant love, encouragement and support, always being there for them, affirming them, catching them doing “something right.” Kim, Tina and Jen have re-made me, and I will always be profoundly grateful to them for that. I can thank them by being the best possible father to them. Having to raise children responsibly had a huge impact on my life.

    I will be an inspiring example for them in everything that I do. I will help Kim, Tina and Jenny to become ever more responsible, optimistic, loving, resilient, capable, strong, successful, and fulfilled.

    I will continue keeping a daily journal to celebrate our family life and keep a record of what we are doing. I will also continue to write the girls nightly letters when I travel. I will do fun and joyful things with the girls, both at the micro level (i.e., moments) and at the macro level (e.g., trips, adventures, and projects). I will continue to give the girls great memories that they will treasure long after I am gone.

    As a family, we will continue to have virtual family meetings (less formal now than when all the girls lived at home) – usually in the form of relaxed conversations on the phone or by e-mail. I will nurture family rituals that bring us closer together, and I will encourage the girls to continue to take self-defense courses. I will also continue to encourage them to read great books, especially biographies, and encourage them to write.

    I will be light, playful, accepting, trusting, attentive, respectful, and considerate. I will especially listen actively to their real concerns and help them attain what they need. I will encourage them to solve their own problems and accomplish their goals. I will help them to achieve great things and to lead loving and ennobling lives.

    I will continue to welcome Sujay, an extraordinarily decent and wonderful person, into our family as warmly as I would my own son. And I will be the best possible grandfather to Kareena, whom Gail and I adore.

    Fourth, my role as a son, brother, and friend: I will honor the memory of my parents. I will stay in close touch with my brothers Tim and Jon. I will also stay in close touch with my relatives, neighbors and colleagues, and nurture my large network of friends and colleagues.

    Fifth, my role as a person who values the miracle of humor: I will honor and embrace humor as a major part of my life. It has a power and exhilaration which can accomplish extraordinary things, including bringing people closer together, teaching me to laugh at myself, activating the immune system, healing the mind and the body, putting breakdowns and challenges into perspective, and deflating tense situations. Laughter is an amazing and wonderful phenomenon. I will deepen my understanding of the value of humor and, more generally, the value of perspective. I will become a more competent observer of the humor in the mundane and routine, and I will use more humor in my journal and in my letters. I will write a book on this subject.

    Sixth, my role as a “role model” for dealing competently, gracefully, and patiently with aging and death: I will become immersed in reinterpreting what it means for someone to “retire” so it becomes an incredibly active and productive part of my later life. I want to live my life in crescendo and make meaningful and vigorous contributions to society in my old age. I will grow older with grace, dignity, and joy, and I will plan for my death so it is an inexpensive, fulfilling, and positive experience. I hope to be seen my others as a source of great wisdom, insights, and sound advice.

    I will lead a balanced, exuberant, and honorable life so that when I die, I will enjoy the profound satisfaction of having no regrets of any kind. I will leave a legacy that will benefit my daughters and their children and grandchildren, as well as many others.

    I look forward to getting older as an incredibly challenging phase of my life. I will be a role model for others and have an amazingly productive and fun old age. My aim is to die with my dreams fulfilled, leaving behind an identity and reputation I am proud of, and knowing that I didn’t, through timidity, apathy, complacency, or lack of imagination, let an opportunity to excel and contribute pass me by.

    I will study death and dying and deepen my understanding of it. I realize that death is my constant companion — as it is for us all. I will let this awareness guide me to make the best use of my time and live life to the fullest every moment.

    Seventh, my role as a professor, author, speaker, film producer, environmentalist, and animal welfare advocate: A major part of my life is my work as a professor and running the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at AU. My goal is to be a wonderfully inspirational teacher, always available to my students, and constantly encouraging, supporting, and challenging them. I intend to provide my students with a life-changing experience. I want to be renowned for my exceptional teaching skills and for getting my students actively engaged in their own learning.

    By working closely with my colleagues, I will help make the Center for Environmental Filmmaking into a powerhouse of national and international influence on films relating to conservation. I will continue to establish trusting relationships with all my colleagues and help them achieve their goals. I will find ways to express my appreciation and gratitude to them.

    I will accomplish my goals at the Center by running a “virtual corporation” with a minimum of bureaucracy and red tape, by making judicious use of the expertise of faculty and staff at SOC, and by operating in a mood of entrepreneurial hustle, passionate enthusiasm, and high productivity.

    Another major part of my life is as a writer and speaker. I will finish my second book Confessions of a Wildlife Film Producer by August 31, 2012. In my writing (both books and articles) I will begin to focus more on conservation, humor, parenting, teaching, retirement, aging, and dying.

    I will also serve to the best of my ability as President of the One World One Ocean Foundation, President of the MacGillivray Freeman Films Educational Foundation, and board member for 14 nonprofits. See the separate document Goals for Chris Palmer for more details.


  • A Good Death and How to Achieve It 

    Is it possible to create a good death? Or is someone simply lucky if he or she dies well? These are the fascinating questions Dr. Ira Byock, a professor at Dartmouth Medical School, raises in his important 1997 book, Dying Well: Peace and Possibilities at the End of Life.

    Both my parents have died (four years apart), and neither experienced what Byock would call a good death. None of us in the family—neither my parents, nor their three sons, nor their eleven grandchildren—experienced increased closeness, expressed much gratitude or affection, or offered much in the way of tender goodbyes. In retrospect, I fear that my parents felt lonely and frightened as they were dying.

    This sad experience has led me to think about whether it’s possible to prevent the kind of suffering my parents experienced—in short, to die better. Can someone create meaning and purpose out of the dying process?

    Byock says a good death includes expressing love (for example, saying I love you), accepting love, thanking loved ones, expressing appreciation, forgiving, apologizing, and saying goodbye.

    The goal is to find peace and satisfaction by completing and resolving the issues that deeply matter. Of course, there is no need to wait until the last year of your life to do these things.

    But let’s get real for a moment. Dying isn’t pretty. An implacable and ravaging illness can undermine your sense of who you are. Your very identity, what gives your life purpose and meaning, can wither and bring on feelings of profound despair.

    When deteriorating, you are no longer all those things—father or mother, husband or wife, nurturer, initiator, organizer, caregiver, resource, breadwinner—that once defined you as a person. You are no longer living as you did at your peak. All the “work” that used to give your life meaning has disappeared.

    In dying, you become a different person. The strong, independent, loving person you once were painfully fades away and the memories of you in peak health grow faint. You can no longer fulfill your responsibilities and in fact have become a burden to those you love. Sickness and senility leave you a far less appealing and attractive person.

    In the face of losing your responsibilities, roles, and abilities, is it still possible for you to have mastery in some sense as you weaken inexorably and slip towards death? How do you avoid feelings of helplessness, humiliation, fear, and despair? These are the issues that Byock’s book grapples with. He argues persuasively that a dying person and his or her family can take many steps to achieve a good death.

    One of them is not to let doctors do what they’ve been taught to do in medical school. Doctors are taught to give patients aggressive life-prolonging treatments and to keep them alive by whatever means possible. This makes no sense if the only thing accomplished is to delay death by a few days accompanied by intense pain, suffering, and even trauma (to say nothing of the incredible expense). What is the point of allowing a semi-conscious, terminally ill patient to linger? We don’t treat our dogs this inhumanely. Each of us has a right to choose a good death.

    Good deaths can also be prevented by failing to control pain, especially when it is agonizing and explosive. I’d rather be sedated than be in unbearable pain or have my family see me in such pain. I know there is a fine line between sedation for the treatment of extreme terminal pain and euthanasia. Byock points out in his book that the line between ensuring comfort and hastening death—between refusing unwanted medical intervention and euthanasia—is a fine one.

    For some, a good death means assisted suicide, but, says Byock, better efforts by doctors at relieving pain might make discussions of assisted suicide or euthanasia less necessary.

    A good death is fundamentally about a person experiencing something that has meaning and value. Is it possible to transform the experience of dying into a process which includes peace and serenity? The question may seem absurd when most of us associate dying with emotional anguish and extreme misery, exacerbated by the morbid prospect of annihilation and leaving projects unfinished. Still, it’s a question worth asking and Ira Byock provides a great service by provoking his readers to reflect on how it might be possible.

    This coming March, Dr. Byock will publish a new book called The Best Care Possible. I will be the first in line to buy it.

    Tags: , , dying, Ira Byock, , parents   

  • Thoughts on aging 

    I associate aging with deterioration, disease, and suffering. Loss of mental and physical agility is inevitable. The indignities of old age harass the elderly relentlessly. Moreover, old age is accompanied by a growing physical repulsiveness. Our physical features and bodies become repellent in various ways, exacerbated by frailty, despair, and pain. Chronic, debilitating illnesses force people into feeble, unproductive, and grouchy lives. I dread and fear old age. I’d rather die than suffer the ignominy and humiliation of senility.

    At least, that’s how I used to think. But recently my youngest daughter Jenny gave me for my 64th birthday John Robbins’ book Healthy at 100: How You Can Dramatically Increase Your Life Span And Your Health Span. Reading this inspiring and evidence-based book has given me new hope that it is possible to live a long life with vigor and vitality, and that aging can be a time of good health filled with purpose, meaning, exuberance, creativity, joy, love, learning, and laughter.

    In favor of his argument that old age can embody deep wisdom, profound joy, and vibrant good health, John Robbins marshals the evidence in favor of a plant-based diet, daily rigorous exercise, and strong, loving relationships so skillfully and fairly that it is hard to imagine how anyone could possibly refute it. It is amazing how wrong doctors have been in the past (for example, claiming that women doing strength training would endanger their ability to have children).

    One particular story fascinated me, and that was the story about runner Jim Fixx. He wrote books extolling the virtues of running, and when he died of a heart attack at age 52, everybody scoffed and said, “That just shows exercise and running won’t stop you from dying early from a heart attack.” Late night comics found in Fixx’s early death rich material for barbed humor aimed at health nuts like me. Jim Fixx’s death seemed to say that it was OK to be a sedentary couch potato.

    It was only in reading John Robbins book that I learned the full story. Apparently Jim Fixx did not eat wisely. He attached little value to good nutrition, and in fact criticized people who stressed how important it was. He ate fast food meals without enough vegetables and fruit. An autopsy revealed that three of his coronary arteries were more than 70 percent blocked, and one was 99 percent obstructed. Poor eating habits killed him, not running, which is not the impression the media gave in 1984 when he died.

    My goal is to never eat anything again with a mother or a face. If I eat like a vegan (as President Bill Clinton now does), keep exercising, and surround myself with a loving family and friends, I’m convinced that it is possible to be vigorous, purposeful, creative, and wise while also being in my 90s or even older. I don’t have to be ill, grumpy, irritable, and irrelevant.

    Tags: gerontology, John Robbins, , senility, vibrancy   

  • Our golden retriever Cory dies 

    We have lost our beloved golden retriever Cory to cancer. She was almost eleven years old. We are grief stricken to lose her, but also deeply grateful for the beautiful life she shared with us. Cory died peacefully this morning at the vet, with my wife Gail and me hugging her, telling her how much we loved her, and thanking her for sharing her exuberant and joyful life with us.

    Cory was a totally loved and beloved member of our family. We all adored her and will miss her terribly. Her unstinting affection, love, and warmth brought us all enormous joy and happiness. All she ever knew was love. All she ever gave was love.

    Ever since our youngest daughter Jenny was about five years old, she had lobbied for the family to get a dog. We had decided against it because the house was already cluttered and disorganized, and Gail, I, and the girls had schedules which were already stressfully jammed packed. Adding the responsibilities of a dog would have been unwise, even irresponsible.

    We eventually changed our minds when Jenny was about 12. Her older sisters Kim and Tina went off to college leaving Jen with the ghastly prospect (at least, that’s how Gail and I imagined it) of being alone in a big house with her parents. We were worried that Jen would find our company so boring and the situation so detestable that she would be driven nuts. In fact, we were concerned that she would want to get out of the house and escape into the homes of school friends where there might be standards of behavior we weren’t comfortable with.

    When we told Jenny that we had decided to get a dog, we thought she would be deliriously happy, but in fact she responded by saying she wasn’t sure she wanted a dog any more. When we asked her why she felt that way, Jen told us that she wasn’t sure she wanted to go through the pain and grief she knew she would experience when the dog died. Anyway, Jen finally decided it was OK for the family to get a dog.

    Born on October 9, 2000, Cory arrived in our home about seven weeks old. She spent her first night crying piteously because she missed her family. Jenny stayed up with her all night and slept next to Cory to give her whatever comfort she could.

    One of the first things I noticed about Cory was her eye lashes—soft, beautiful, and human-like. It made her seem like one of us rather than a dog.

    I never saw Cory more utterly contented and deeply serene as when she sat on Jenny’s bed as Jenny was going to sleep while Jenny petted her. I swear I could see a smile on Cory’s face from the sheer pleasure of it!

    I could put my hand in Cory’s mouth and she would never bite or hurt me in any way. While she had strong jaws, it was in her nature to be gentle and not hurt anyone. Affection poured out of her like sunrays pour out of the sun.

    Cory was highly food motivated. One of our family traditions when celebrating birthdays is to hide single dollars around the house for the person being celebrated to search for and find (with the number of dollars equal to the birthday). We did this once, but made the mistake of hiding some of them on or near the floor and then leaving them there while we went out for a meal at a local restaurant. When we returned, we were baffled why some of the dollars were missing, but later realized that Cory had eaten them! They showed up the next day on our daily walk!

    Cory was a really beautiful dog. Of course, she had no notion of this, but people were naturally drawn to her, and whenever we were out on walks, I would often receive compliments about her photogenic looks.

    Thanks to Jenny, Cory was a therapy dog for about three years at the Carriage Hill Nursing Home. Jenny, Cory, and I would visit there on Sundays, and Cory brought her uninhibited playfulness, contagious high spirits, and loving joie de vivre to the residents.

    Losing Cory leaves a huge hole in our lives. She was a devoted companion and friend. She was always in a good mood, always lived in the moment, and played at every opportunity. We all adored her and give profound thanks for her wonderful life.


  • Reflections on Aging and Death 

    I’ve been sick over Christmas. Virtually all my life (I’m now 63) I’ve been full of energy and enthusiasm and rarely get sick. I’m one of the healthiest people around and exercise daily for an hour.

    Getting sick this Christmas was a lesson in getting real about mortality. I’m usually so fit, healthy, and strong that I feel I’ll live to be a hundred and still be doing handstands in my 90s. After getting sick this Christmas though, I suddenly feel vulnerable. I sense death whispering in my ear and I feel intimations of mortality, like a shark sensing blood in the water.

    Getting old is vexing. Every year I’m a little less the vigorous person I used to be. Perhaps this is offset by increased wisdom, but I can’t be sure of that.

    Old men can get grumpy, hard of hearing, unfocused, selfish, foggy, and self-absorbed. Deterioration in brain function can exacerbate all these negatives. Both our curiosity and compassion can take a nose-dive.

    The person I was when I was at my noblest and most capable (perhaps I’m at that age right now) will slowly decline, like a statue chipped away by age and weather. That funny, caring, thoughtful, patient, and perceptive person in his 60’s will begin to fade.

    My essential self will die a long time before my actual death.

    Will my loved ones remember me as I was at my prime? Or will they make the same mistake I have repeatedly made over my lifetime with old people, and look at me as an elderly curmudgeon and forget the person I was before I became deaf, diseased, and decrepit?

    Tags: , , mortality, old men, sickness   

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