Savoring Yosemite in the spring

Carl Sharsmith had been a ranger at Yosemite National Park for over fifty years when a middle-aged tourist, looking quite harried, approached him. “Sir,” the man said,

“I have only about half a day to spend in Yosemite, could you suggest which sights I could see in my limited time?” Sharsmith, who even after exploring the park for half a century, had yet to see the entire park, eyeballed the eager tourist for a moment. Then he answered, “Sir, do you see that large flat rock over there? Well, if you really have only a few hours to see this magnificent park, I'd suggest you just sit down on that rock and have yourself a good cry.”

Anyone who has experienced the grandeur of Yosemite will appreciate Sharsmith's remark. Nobody “sees”Yosemite in a half day. Not with its over 1100 square mile area, 800 miles of hiking trails and 263 miles of roads. It's too big, too massive. You could spend hours just standing at Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in all of North America or watching the rock climbers scampering up the granite face of Half Dome or gazing in awe at the giant sequoias, the largest living things on our planet.

My wife and I have hiked and camped at Yosemite many times but, this time, because of her medical condition, we decided to go easy on ourselves. We found lodging at an upscale motel resort just two miles outside the Arch Rock entrance to the park on Rt. 140.

Our room overlooked the Merced River, which at this time of year, made a thunderously loud passage by the motel. It was quite exhilarating.

From our lodge we could take a shuttle to all the major points of interest in the park, without worrying about finding a place to park our car. Very convenient and cheap (only $7.50 round trip, $6.00 for seniors.) We rented bikes near the Yosemite Lodge or rather I rented a bike and Kathleen rented a little electric scooter and we had a blast riding around the park at our own pace (slow) and drinking in the scenery. There was not a lot of traffic on the bike paths and we were far enough away from the road to give us the illusion that we were out in the wilderness. It was deliciously quiet, just us and the birds and the sound of water rushing by. The bike path was level too so we were able to check out Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake and Happy Isles on our bikes without hardly breaking a sweat.

At Happy Isles, while Kathleen rested and caught up on her reading, I decided to work off some of the calories I'd been accumulating and hike up to Vernal Falls. The sign indicated it was only a mile and a half hike up to the falls but the important word is “UP.” I made it about half way where a wooden bridge crosses a gorge, then wimped out. Later, I meet a mom and her little 4 year old girl who had had made it all the way to the top, (the little show-off) On my way down, I stopped to talk with an 86 year old guy who was on his way up the trail. When I admitted to the old guy that I had only made it halfway, he had the nerve to reach out, pat my belly and say “Ha! Maybe too much beer? “

My wife and I are both nutsy for waterfalls so we found our Shangri-la in Yosemite this year. As the warm spring sun did its thing, it seemed as though the whole Sierra snowcap had let loose at once. There were waterfalls emerging that neither of us had ever seen before. The combination of meadows strewn with a profusion of wild flowers, the cascading waterfalls and the clear Sierra air made us feel like NYC kids on our first foray into the country.

Our Yosemite trip ended as it always has, at the legendary Ahwahnee Hotel, the king of all the National Park Lodges. It's a bit pricey at the Ahwahnee so we can't afford to stay there overnight but we always make it a point to have breakfast or lunch in their massive 130 ft. long, 34 ft. high dining hall. The food is superb, the service excellent and the view from the sky-high windows looking out over the Sierras is something you will never forget. Even if you don't dine at the Ahwahnee, at least stroll through its Great Room, the immense gallery and lounge of the hotel. With its rustic pine log ceilings, floor to ceiling stained glass windows and monstrous fireplace, you'll think you're in a medieval castle.

We spent 2 1/2 days at Yosemite. That was considerably more time than the tourist who had only half a day to spare but we both knew it was not nearly enough. I suspect even Carl Sharsmith's fifty years was too little time to appreciate the Yosemite experience. No regrets. Even our brief visit made us richer.

The Empire of me

A couple of weeks ago, my son, Sean, told me with considerable pride that he has finally quit smoking. He celebrated his fifth smoke-less month on May 1st. After congratulating him, I asked him what made him finally do it this time (Sean, a smoker since he was 15 had tried and failed several times over the years.)

“Dad, he said, this time, my resolution to quit smoking wasn't about me. On New Year's Day, I resolved to quit because I knew how worried you and Kathleen are about my health. I wanted to give you guys the gift of my giving up smoking.

Sean went on to tell me that he had been reading Vicktor Frankl's “Man's Search For Meaning,” which is the story of a Jewish psychiatrist's survival in Auschwitz during World War ll. Frankl wrote that, in his experience in the camp, the survivors tended to be the inmates that had something or rather SOMEONE to live for. “All of a sudden, I got it,” said Sean, “that the reason these guys survived was for someone they loved, not so much for themselves. I thought I'd do the same thing, give up smoking for you guys.

I was delighted that Sean quit smoking but got even more of a rush that he gave it up out of love for Kathleen and myself. We live, after all, in a culture that is distrustful of people doing things for others. Just take a look at the various Survivor shows on T.V. The victory is not to the person who is honest and unselfish but to the manipulator who manages to outsmart the other participants. That mentality has seeped into our values. We reward the one who looks out for him/herself first.

They used to call the 70's the decade of the “Me generation.” Seems to me, we have returned there with a bang. How often these days do you hear women actually apologizing on some T.V. talk show for having put their kids first ? What's that about? Then, the guru of the day will utter some kind of pycho babble that goes like “It's all right, honey. You didn't know any better. The important thing is that now you have to put yourself first.” What a crock !

Women and men too, should BOAST about being unselfish enough to put their kids first or having sacrificed themselves for a cause greater than themselves. These moms and dads deserve a standing ovation not a patronizing pat on the head.

The reality is that when you live only to please yourself, you are setting yourself up for failure. In the long run, it simply doesn't work. We will accomplish nothing in our lives if our motivation comes only from taking care of what someone has called “the empire of me.” We are meant for much more than the personal stuff we can accumulate. Trust me, life's real winners are not the ones who end up with the most toys but those who have had the happiness of giving their toys away. The deepest satisfaction in life still comes not from filling up your own Christmas stocking but from filling up those of your loved ones.

Balkinization of the Generations

I caught an article in the N.Y. Times recently about the major disconnect between the dramatic decrease in the number of serious juvenile crimes in this country and the perception on the part of adults, especially older adults, that juvenile crime is totally out of control. The article pointed out that while youth homicides declined by a whopping 68 % in the past six years, most Americans believe that juvenile crime is on the rise.

The reason for this disconnect between perception and reality can be blamed, at least in part, on the media's obsession with youth crime. Hardly a night goes by that the six o'clock news is reporting on a mugging or robbery committed allegedly by juvenile delinquents. Never mind that the juveniles involved represent only a miniscule minority of kids. Unfortunately, fear sells almost as well as sex.

But it would be simplistic to place all the blame on the media. I submit that there is another reason for adult's apparent readiness to think the worst of kids. For want of a better term, I call it the Balkanization of the generations.

Reflect for a moment on the fact that an increasing number of older people are choosing to live in retirement communities, where they no longer have to share their streets with the young and support their schools. Even when older people do share the same neighborhoods, kids, parents and grandparents are seldom connected.

Teens may be under the same roof with their parents but they live in their own universe, with their own music, their own set of friends and their own language. Driven by pressure to succeed in an increasingly competitive society, parents inhabit still another world. Neither the younger or the middle generation has much contact with the grandparents. With the possible exception of holidays, the three generations no longer touch one another in any meaningful way. We don't learn from one another because we don't know one another.

Where there is ignorance, there is fear. Old people are afraid of kids because they have no contact with them. The younger generation has its own ignorance and its own fears. For them, the fear is of aging itself. Not knowing older people who are role models of successful aging, young people equate old age with loneliness, physical incapacity and

dependence. It scares the hell out of them and, by the way, it does the same to their parents who find themselves getting ever closer to their own golden age.

I am one old geezer who would like to see my peers take the lead in breaking down the barriers that separate generations from one another. We, after all, are the elders, the wise ones. It's up to us to set an example for the generations coming after us. Already there are many in the older generation who are reaching out to the young, as mentors, school volunteers and in dozens of ways getting themselves involved with those who will come after them. This is the kind of pro-active role we can play.

Not that breaking down generational walls will be easy, Neither teens nor their parents are waiting with open arms to drink in the wisdom older people have to impart. As a society, we have all bought in to the idea that our value comes from how much money we make or how many toys we possess, from what we have or what we do rather than who we are. Consequently, the society at large has pretty well written off any contributions that the Medicare generation can make. Like the one time great home run hitter who can no longer catch up with the high hard one, we are perceived as having had our day. So get lost Pops. Big mistake.

We elders should not allow ourselves to be patronized in this way. We do ourselves nor society any favor by allowing it. Life has taught us that in the long run, there is no u-haul truck following the hearse. What matters finally is how we have treated one another and if we have left this world a better place than we found it. That's the kind of wisdom we have to share. If we believe it and live our lives that way, we can be the bridge connecting all three generations.

Assisted suicide a bad idea

The Common Good and Rights of the Individual

Is my right to assisted suicide trumped by the greater good of society?

I was intrigued by Dr.Michael Gospe's comments on the proposed assisted suicide bill currently being considered in our state legislature. Dr.Gospe, the Director of Medical Ethics at Memorial Hospital, is quoted in the Press Democrat article of Sunday May 15 as saying, “Their (those in favor of the bill) emphasis is more on an individual and my concern is more with society. I worry about the poor person, the mentally handicapped person” Thank you Dr.Gospe for raising a very important issue

What is at stake here, it seems to me, is that any legislation must balance the rights of the individual to have his needs met with the common good of society. We are a country built on the values of rugged individualism, so it is all too easy for us to get so caught up in demanding our personal rights that we overlook the bigger picture, the greater good of society.

It's one thing to pose the question “Does an individual have the right to commit

suicide?” and quite another to ask “Should we pass a law that allows a doctor to assist him in taking his own life?” That's a far more complex question. Laws are made not only to safeguard the rights of individuals but also to protect the common good. Will the common good be served by making it legal for our medical healers to take on the role of legal accomplices in patients suicides? I don't think so.

I am not unaware of the agony good people endure in standing by helplessly while their loved ones suffer from a terminal illness. I personally have experienced this in the case of a close friend of mine, a woman of keen intelligence and wit, who suffered for months, kept alive way beyond her time. I wanted desperately to put her out of her nightmare. There was a moment, standing alone by her bedside, that if I had possessed the courage and was not afraid of the legal consequences, I may well have done the deed. So, I do understand the feelings of state assemblywoman, Patty Berg, who wanted a legal way to end her suffering husband's life. Those who are promoting this legislation are, I firmly believe, moved by compassion. They want to do no less for their loved ones than we do for our animals.

But I question passing a law that might have the effect of having patients look on doctors as purveyors of death as well as protectors of life. I'm suspicious of legislation that could tempt a health organization to encourage people to consider a painless way of death rather than prolong life (at considerably more cost). And if it were all perfectly legal for grandma to have a doctor help her to diss herself before she has spent all her finances, isn't it at least possible that the grandkids would encourage her to take that “unselfish” way out ?

In Holland, legislation that started out with good and compassionate intent is now being invoked by doctors to put severely disabled babies to death. In this country, laws legalizing capital punishment had all sorts of safeguards built into it to make sure no innocent person was ever put to death. Sadly, we are finding out through DNA technology that our safeguards were full of holes. We need to be very careful in passing legislation that can have consequences that go far beyond what we can foresee. We are talking here about the sanctity of life.

Hank Mattimore is a Santa Rosa resident and the author of “The Priest Who Couldn't Cheat.”

Living With Lung Cancer

Shortly after my wife and I returned from our trip to Spain, we found out that the bad cough she had developed on the trip was not just a bad cough. She has lung cancer.

After further tests at Kaiser, it now appears that this is fourth stage lung cancer and that it has spread throughout her body. Her oncologist is a compassionate man but believes in being honest with his patients. “Patients with this type of cancer have about a 50/50 chance of living for a year. Statistically, less than five percent live as long as five years.

BANG ! One day we are planning our next trip. The next day, we find ourselves in a world grown cold and ominous and very temporary. Those of you whose loved ones have had this experience know what I am talking about. All the stages of grief sort of run over you at once. You're in denial one minute. Then, you are whining “Why me?” The next thing you know, you're on your knees bargaining with God. The road to acceptance is not for sissies.

Chemotherapy, the only medical option open to her at this stage, is not for sissies either. The side effects of the treatments leave her feeling nauseous, very tired and in no shape to jog around the block (or even around the house.) Chemo is an equal opportunity killer, offing the body's good cells along with the cancerous ones. Maybe the toughest part of the chemo regimen for us is knowing that it is not a cure. Barring a miracle, all we can hope for is a little more time to live and, at best, a temporary remission. of the cancer.

Kathleen, gutsy woman that she is, has managed to find a bright side to the experience. “It has changed my perspective in so many ways,” she says. “Because I know I don't have a lot of time left, I am enjoying the important things much more than I ever have. She has become closer to her kids and grandkids. She is so sensitive with them and affectionate. Kath and I have also become closer, realizing, acknowledging the value of our time together. “In a way,” she muses, “this horrible disease has become a gift.”

Always someone who planned carefully ahead, she had her twenty-year financial plan all worked out. She laughs at herself now and is quite happy having a premium glass of cabernet with her meal and paying a little extra for a fine dining experience instead of settling for a meal at Denny's.

The most significant change for both of us has been in the spiritual realm. We have always gone to church so that hasn't changed. But our relationship with God and the way we look at life has changed. Kathleen has been overwhelmed by the number of friends who have been praying for her. The promise of prayers have come from the most diverse sources, like her Hindu doctor, Maryknoll missionaries, friends of her gay son, former priests, developmentally disabled people I used to work with, a Methodist Congregation, a convent of nuns, men in prison who she has helped, our two year old grand daughter, my tennis buddies and the women in her book club. The list goes on.

I do believe in the power of prayer and that prayers are ALWAYS answered. Kathleen's Hindu physician told her “You know something? We doctors sometimes think we know everything about the human body and disease. We don't know anything. We do the best we can but ultimately, when God is ready for you, he will call for you.”

I hope that those of you who read this will join your prayers to that motley group of folks already praying for my wife, that when her time comes, she will be ready.

Adopting Alex

Kathleen and I have adopted a five year old Guatemalan kid by the name of Alex. Well, maybe “adopted” is not the right word because Alex will remain in Guatemala with his Mom and little sister while we continue to hang out in California.

My wife and I will be more like surrogate grandparents sending this agency in Guatemala 20 bucks a month to help his mom keep her five year old boy in food and clothing, to cover medical expenses and to pay his tuition in school.

Like any grandparents, surrogate or not, we can send our little guy presents from time to time. Having had kids of our own, we will be savvy enough to include a gift for Alex's little sister, too. We are also encouraged to write our new grandson and send him pictures of ourselves and family. Someday, we hope to visit Alex and his family in Guatemala.

The agency sent us a picture of Alex along with a mini-summary of his living situation. Our new grandson lives in a home made of dirt blocks with a dirt floor and corrugated tin roof. His mom cooks over a fire using clay pots. The household income is approximately $10 per month, most of which is earned by mom doing laundry.

We don't know too much about Alex yet other than he likes to play with cars and that one of his main jobs around the house is to carry firewood for his mother. Mom adds that he is also very good about taking care of his little sister. Alex's Dad died three or four years ago.

The agency we are working with is called The Christian Foundation for Children and Aging. They are the ones we are trusting with our donation each month to make sure it is spent for Alex. To be honest, Kathleen and I wondered at first whether this could be all a con job. Could we really trust the agency to use our donation honestly. But, from the checking we did, these folks have a good reputation. The American Institute for Philanthropy gave them their highest rating. Eighty-six cents on the dollar goes to direct services for the kids and old folks. Less than 15 % goes to administration. That sounded pretty good to us plus the fact that the Christian Foundation now sponsors nearly a quarter million kids and frail older people in third world countries all over the world.

We decided to give this person to person thing a try after being bombarded for years by a host of do good agencies asking for our donations. CARE, UNICEF, Catholic Relief Services, the list goes on and on. We started to get on overwhelm. Much as we would like to help them all, we simply couldn't do it. Helping one kid, five year old Alex, seems

more do-able. We see his picture. We know where he lives. One day, we hope to pay him a visit.

I'll let you know in future columns how our adopted kid is getting along. If any of you want to check out the possibility of extending your family to the third world, I'm sure there are other agencies who will arrange for you to do what Kath and I are doing or you could contact the agency we are working with at 800-875-6564. Their web address is Just don't ask to adopt a Guatemalan kid named Alex. He's ours.