Political issues keep brain active, even at age 96

I have often wondered what happens to the brain as we age.  In too many cases we know, only too tragically. But there are degrees. A 100-year-old woman in France claims to be smarter than she was at 20.

As I approach my 96th birthday, I find myself trying to go back and re-create some of that century in my aged brain.

Socrates would probably argue with the theory that this was the most intellectually advanced century in history, but there is no question that it was the most technologically advanced.

I do regret that I was born much too early to early to enjoy iPhones and iPods and iPads. But I did grow up with computers, starting with the Radio Shack TRS-80 back in the ‘70s.  And today my Mac, with a big screen and ZOOM, lets me write although I am legally blind.

What did I accomplish in those 96 years? I really don’t know exactly, but I sure have had a good time.

Women’s lives are generally divided into three passages that the ancient Greeks called Youth, Mother and Crone.

In my Youth years, I was mostly absorbing information. The four years at the University of Colorado were wonderful. You learn facts, but mostly you learn attitudes and what is important in your world. And I owe an eternal thank you to Mrs. Hulley, the most ferocious English teacher in America in 1930. A split infinitive will always be a felony to me. Thanks, Mrs. Hulley.

I do know what I contributed in the domestic years: two fine men of whom I am so very proud. Of course, I don’t claim much of the credit for their eventual contributions to society, but I helped.

In fact, it was sort of a two-way street. They influenced me as much as I did them. As I think back, I realize that John, as president of the Arizona ACLU for several years, made me acutely aware of the issue of free speech. And David, who got exposed to the activity of the second women’s movement in New York, got me excited about what became my main issue.

The third passage of my life, “cronehood,” has been the most exciting. That is when women have the leisure to get involved in some major interest beyond family.

Of course, my brain has changed with the rest of me. I am less likely to make snap judgments (this will be a surprise to my friends) and somewhat more thoughtful. My memory is much worse, but I can still get emotional and fairly rational about issues.

I think it is vital for older people to have a passion for or a deep interest in something. Musicians and artists bring happiness to many besides themselves. Others can build — everything from quilts and sweaters to wood work. The outdoors call to some. There are so many things we can do.

Three issues have dominated my aging brain: The rights of women, freedom of speech and the separation of church and state. They have made me a political junkie. If they make me a political liberal, so be it.

I helped start the NOW chapter locally and was the first president. I am still a member. The battle for women’s rights has been a long, painful one. It involves, very simply, the legal and social right for women to live their lives as they choose — be it in a purely domestic role or a professional one, or anything in between.

We are far from equality, although Hillary Clinton came within grabbing distance of the highest political office in the land. I have said for years that I have to live until we get a woman president. I may have to back off on that. If, by some miracle Sara Palin should get it, Canada, here I come.

Another important issue is freedom of speech. That has gotten pretty complicated. The general, unwritten qualification has always been “You can’t yell ‘fire’  in a crowded theater.” Today’s political language has come frightening close to that sometimes.

The separation of church and state is, I believe, a vital issue. Certainly those governing have complete freedom of personal religion. But the attempt to force any individual religion on all of us is fatal to democracy.

I know many of my readers will disagree with these, but I feel the need to express them.  I love America, and want it to live on as the birthplace of freedom.

Yes, I guess my 96 year old brain is still wiggling around.

Henrietta can be reached by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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