Thoughts On the Hearing of Some News

The death of actor Donald Sutherland caused me to think and reflect for a number of reasons.

I will always remember his role in the movie “Ordinary People.” I will always consider him a principled man and remember how he protested the Vietnam war alongside Jane Fonda. And I have appreciated him for the fact that he never played the “movie star” role and despite his 6’4” height was always modest and not self-promoting. Of the 4 lead actors in “Ordinary People,” three were nominated for Academy Awards, not including him. And he deserved it most of all, but never complained.

But there is another reason I found myself reflecting on this news. Donald Sutherland died at age 88, and I myself am age 88. And I am still alive.

In fact, I feel very much alive. So far this week I have swum 5 miles, ridden my bicycle 86 miles, and walked a lot. I have swum across the Chesapeake Bay 10 times, all since the age of 70. I read over 100 books a year. I still write stories and poems and things for edbriggs.com.  I still have . . . (oops, no, someone would say “too much information.”)

My doctor suggested a checkup with a cardiologist a few months back. The cardiologist did an EKG and a stress test and basically told me not to bother him anymore because he has unhealthy people to care for, and I am not one of them.

I was born in 1936 so I cannot deny being 88. But I do not feel old or think old, and I try not to act old. I think of myself as a normal person and not In some special category. Some others of us 88s that you know of include Julie Andrews, Woody Allen, Alan Alda, Johnny Mathis, and Phil Donahue. Pope Francis will join us in December. He and most of this list are still doing well in the world.

Still, Brother Sutherland has reminded me that my exit is not only possible, not only probable, but clearly inevitable. Thank you, Sir. One day I will remind someone else the very same way you have.

This being so, I do resent the sentiment I sometimes encounter, that an 88 person is on his way out and in a different category of living persons. Living, but barely, in some people’s view. Last year I made an appointment to see a urologist at a famous hospital in Baltimore. I won’t call the name but if you Google “famous hospital in Baltimore” it will come up in big bold letters. Nearly laughing, the young doctor told me that “we don’t treat people your age.” We. I left shaking my 88-year-old head. I have since found a fine urologist who does treat people “my age.”

When I was a young boy in Tennessee, there were doctors who would say to some potential patients, “we don’t treat people your color.” Today I assume that isn’t acceptable. But somewhere in Baltimore your age can still disqualify you.

I admit to wishing for an age beyond 88. I have a loving wife and family and many friends. I am as happy as I have ever been, especially remembering those years of middle age. But I have already had a good life, as did Brother Sutherland. All is well . . . and will be well.


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Disabilities Health Humanity Uncategorized

A Hand and A Foot

My father and I had in common a pair of physical disabilities: his right hand and my right foot. Both were handicaps beyond our control, and both were a part of our self-consciousness around others. Although he was right-handed, Dad shook hands with others using his good left hand turned thumb downward. Around others, I instinctively hid my bad right foot behind my good left one. This created something of a bond between us.

Dad had mangled his right hand as a poor North Carolina mountain boy feeding sugar cane into a sorghum molasses mill. The mill took his index and middle fingers, and did damage to the rest of the hand as well. Despite this, Dad went on to college and played football, baseball, basketball, and track. The lack of fingers never kept him from writing or gardening or typing or fishing or anything else. But he was always conscious of it and spoke little about it.

Now and then, when they give us our feet, someone gets a defective one. My right foot was given me defective, being abnormally large and equipped with tiny useless toes. Doctors removed the toes and over the years whittled down the size as much as possible. The lack of toes never kept me from football, running, golf, hiking and mountain climbing, tennis, and swimming. But I am always conscious of the foot, especially around the curious.

One day I had finished swimming at a community pool and was showering in an open area in the men’s dressing room. In from the pool came a young boy, and I saw him see my foot. After an excited, wide-eyed look, he turned and ran back the way he’d come in. He returned with his little sister to show it to her. Then he went to the door and called for his mother to come in and see. The mother called them both back out and that was the last of it. Over the years I have had many wide-eyed children staring, and occasionally some adults.

When he was old, my father took me to the area where he had lived as a boy and lost his fingers. Out from Asheville is the town of Marshall, and out from Marshall was Brush Creek. Dad and his family lived in a cabin in a valley there, close beside the French Broad River. The valley was all grown up and void of homes or dwellings, but Dad took me where he said the cabin had been located, and where the cane mill had been. He explained that after the accident they took him across the mountain to a doctor, and the doctor removed what was left of the two fingers by lantern light. His older brother George kept the fingers in his pocket and the next day the boys buried them on hill behind the house. Dad told me he could show me the burial spot “within ten feet” and did, I can only assume.

Yes, I have been to VA hospitals and seen the war-injured. And, yes, I know that a bad hand and a bad foot are not to be compared with the wounds of those service men and women. And I know I could never fully appreciate the mental trials they endure. But I do have some idea about it.

Stories Uncategorized

A Letter from the Postmaster


I received the following notice with my mail: “Dear Customer, the Postal Service depends on you to meet postal requirements regarding delivery and collection of mail to curbside boxes. Please keep the full approach and exits to your mailbox clear, as illustrated in the examples below. Removing trash cans, snow, vehicles, and any other objects from the area allows the carrier to deliver your mail safely and efficiently without exiting the vehicle. Your cooperation in this matter is sincerely appreciated.  Thank you. Your Postmaster.” …

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