The Five Things We Cannot Change

The process of sorting and tossing is bringing many gifts…One piece of paper that didn’t get tossed, is the copy of a chart from David Richo’s 2005 book The Five Things We Cannot Changeand the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them.

In my final issue of the Martha’s Musings bi-monthly newsletter just last week,  I expressed my angst and sadness about the world situation, the changes to which, in my 82nd year, I am finally awakening. Whether it be the climate disaster, the 750,000 lives lost to CoVid, immigration issues, law enforcement, justice not for all, education, the medical system, not much is working.   And the political polarization is severe.

Fortunately , David Richo’s “chart” brings the necessary framework if one seeks reassurance.   Not only is my grieving normal, it is necessary.  Somehow I have to face, not resist or deny, and let go. I must learn the personal lessons which will allow me to live in peace.

The five things we cannot change are familiar. And sometimes they happen all at once. Things change and end. (Lots of things are changing and ending in my life as I suppose they are in yours, including my “hopes” for the future.)  Things do not always go according to plan.   Life is not always fair.  Pain is a part of life.  People are not loving and loyal all of the time.

Typically, we fear these things.  They are neither fun to anticipate nor to live through.

As I find myself masking that fear with stoicism, over planning to control, and blaming others,  I “up” my guard to protect myself from each of those pains in life.  Perhaps you do, too.

But Richo advises there is a way forward.  Certainly grieving is the first. I also must remind myself that you win some and you lose some.  And you need to allow the pain, say “ouch” without retaliating.   As Meg Wheatley, a long term leadership consultant has come to advise in these tough times, “While continuing to face some very serious national realities, we must find our bravery to work locally for justice.”

While I fear this sounds too neat as a package amidst my tears, I am starting to notice the newspaper articles and TV features which demonstrate local shifts in the right direction.  Our primarily Puerto Rican town has just elected a highly qualified and first Latinx mayor, Joshua Garcia. I anticipate good changes rippling out from that accomplishment due to the brave, insistent work of many, many people.

CBS 60-Minutes (11/21/21) featured the story of a psychology professor at YALE, expert in the science of racial profiling. Phillip Goff was challenged into bravery to deploy his expertise in a wider more effective way.  He co-founded the Center for Policing Equity, which is currently advising police departments to better allocate their resources to lower the incidence of community violence. The changes are showing demonstrated success. Thus some national models are being created locally.  See the NPR report on his work.

And so the journey continues.  The question remains for me, “Who am I choosing to be in these very tough times?”  

But first, I’ll grieve.

Is It Time for Reflection?

“The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things…”

I’ve been experiencing some of those many things over July and August of this year.  You probably have your own list.

For instance, there’s joy in the fact that in my senior living community, the mask requirement has been removed. But it’s coupled with the deep sadness, anger, and anxiety at those who have refused to vaccinate in a time when the delta variant is spreading everywhere, and hospitals are in overwhelm.   The mask requirement may return as the death roll rises due to the failure of many in our nation to cooperate.  

In August, with great happiness, I welcomed a visit from my former Peace Corps partner in Colombia (from 58 years ago). A week later I was in shock and tears learning of her heart failure and death upon returning to her Cartagena, Colombia home. 

In addition, I am just tired.   I feel the declines of advancing age and the impact of the onslaught of political polarization affecting all of us (abortion, voting rights, climate change, inequalities of all sorts). 

As the ups and downs of personal and national confusion invade my life,  I find myself concurrently reflecting on my 81 years on the planet.  I am determined to celebrate this life that is mine.  September has become,  the “If not now, when?” moment.    Continuing my efforts to provide more documentation to the Who Was Aunt Martha Anyway? life history contribution for our Family Archives, I’m preparing a video about  the professional Glory Years of my 40’s and 50’s.  It was then when my work with Thought Selection was thriving, the popular Breakthrough Program had been created, and my Growth Dynamics business was flourishing.  Old video tape highlights of these special times are simply not yet ready to be tossed out.  

Those Glory Years eventually came to an end, (or perhaps I should say a move to Massachusetts from Washington, DC, a major illness, and a divorce inaugurated the next, and also interesting and growth producing, phase of my life.) Right now, however, my memories of those “Glory Years” deserve savoring.

The walrus was right…there are many things to talk about and we can go beyond the  “shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—of cabbages—and kings…”. Poet Lewis Carroll

What are the many things in your life over the last two years which have been challenging, despairing, tiring, or all three?  During these times, none of us need feel alone in that space of fear and not-knowing.

However, I invite you to also notice, and talk about,  the moments of joy, hope, possibility, love, and emerging clarity about what’s important, and what’s next. 

 For me, taking time to stop and reflect has brought some welcome insights.


PS.  You may want to check out the September 2021  Martha’s Musings for more about my epiphanies.  If you are not subscribed, send me an email at

Conscious Aging III: Tell Your Story

Yes, tell it!  It’s one of your legacies and a pleasure in the process. Consider seriously reprising your story in writing, on video tape, in labelled photos, or asking for help from a younger member of your brood. No doubt it does take time and effort to reflect on your life, your gifts, your contributions and your trials and tribulations.  Let it be a worthy challenge to learn from your own trajectory through the years.  

Personally, I’m delighted to meet those who have illuminated their life stories for others, and now I am one. I’ve contributed my 133-page-thus-far life-story to the Johnson Family Archives. It clearly brought back memories and offered up previously unacknowledged life patterns.

Think about it!  I’m 81!  My generation’s life spans so many changes.  The list is long:  the days of prosperity following WW II, the woman’s movement, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, permission for same sex marriage,  breaking the glass ceiling for women, the technology revolution with computers and social media (with which I have a hard time keeping up), the polarization within our democracy, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the pandemic. And, I’ve probably missed a bunch.   Basically change is now constant and the aging of the extra sizable Boomer generation, as we speak,  promotes even more options for significance during our unanticipated gift of longevity.

If we do not gather our stories, many of the rich experiences in life, our excitements, our travails, our perspectives, and our wisdom will die with us.  I am one who wished I had asked my mother many more questions before she died. I am determined now to gather my story for my nieces and nephews, whose children, one day, may want to know “Who was Aunt Martha?”

A few years ago at my Senior Residence, I happened to be convening a gathering on the question: “How are we sharing our heritage with the generations that follow us?”

What an amazing meeting it was! One neighbor, Sister Connie, the youngest of 12 in her family,  had worked in Africa for 30 years as a missionary.  She was so appreciated in her region that a building was named in her honor.  Her many nieces and nephews, having reached  their 50s, were starting to ask, “what did you do over there?”  She decided to respond with a simple 30-page memoir….and, it became  a document in demand.

Another neighbor’s relatives had been gathering data on family history for many years. She updates a monstrous data base at the bi-annual reunions which draw at least 200 people. Given this family’s black heritage, all reunions are located where the youngsters can learn about the black history of their forebears. 

Another 80-year old neighbor had prepared, way back in 1984, her own book of history with pictures and text as a gift to each of her 5 children. A real opus and labor of love on display.

It was truly wonderful to have had this chance to learn more about our neighbors and to be inspired by each of their efforts.  For most folks, nothing is more important than telling a part of the unique life story which is theirs, particularly their navigation of their up and down transitions…. and having someone listen and care.  

For we who are older, I think it is an essential survival mechanism too often overlooked.