Some Mathematical Healing

Mathematics is not often thought of in regards to healing.  Instead, we think of meditation, basking in the wonders of nature, relaxation, living in the moment, letting go, listening to soothing music.  However, lately mathematics has been a source of healing.  The following example will show you how.

Recently, my Dad’s 93 year-old brain has been on the on and off mode.  Sometimes he cannot distinguish between dream and reality and acts with extreme apprehension concerning the circumstances of his dreams.  The more practical side of his mind is obsessed with financial transactions, often spending hours trying to solve problems that seem impossible, but are really quite doable.  It dawned on me that a simple algebra problem might gather Dad’s thoughts in a tighter and more purposeful direction.  I might say that mathematics seems to me like a demanding yet supportive parent.  Like a parent, there are rules that must be obeyed and an order to be preserved.  However, there is also something truly soothing about logical boundaries, and a clear set of rules, which, if followed to the letter, lead to future paths of discovery.  Parts of the mind are held in check,  but others are ever expanding, testing, and exploring.  So too, an effective parent guides the child through progressive steps toward exploration.  With these thoughts in mind, I gave Dad the following problem:  Solve for x:  (x)(x)-7=9.  Dad simplified the equation to (x)(x)=16.  Then he began to test numbers such as 2, 4, 6, 8, to see which ones might work.  He also talked about square roots.  After about ten minutes, he came up with the answer 4.  When I told him that was only half the solution, he was nonplussed.  It took him awhile(with some prodding from me) to realize that negative numbers also exist.  When he resisted the idea, I told him that during our lifetimes we had encountered many negative numbers, and a smile crossed his wizened, unshaven face.  He allowed for the possibility of negative numbers.  He then gave -4 as the other solution.  Suddenly, he said that any two negatives squared would result in a positive, so there would always be two numbers as possible solutions  to the type of problem I was asking in which the x’s squared are equal to a positive number.  It amazed me to see how his mind was able to move to such a generalization, so I cried out,  “Bravo!”  Later that evening he was able to solve a financial problem that he couldn’t solve earlier.  Temporarily at least, my Dad’s mind had climbed to a new level of thinking.  I thought this was as an excellent example of mathematical healing and that is why I decided to share it with you.

Down Memory Lane: My Mom’s 1971 Tour De Force

1971 was a very special year for our family;  my father’s parents(Grandma Lillian and Grandpa Johnny) were to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.  For the occasion, Mom did extensive research into the era of the early 1920’s to try to recreate the wedding in the period’s special style.  To do this, she hired a barbershop quartet, set up Johnny’s Speak-Easy for drinks and created Lil’s Candy Corner.

Cecil Ross with the barbershop quartet

Cecil Ross with the barbershop quartet

Period songs were reinterpreted by Aunt Cecil, the family’s clever lyricist.  For “Frankie and Johnny”, for instance, she made the following change:  “He’s still her man.  For fifty years they can’t be wrong!”  Seven years earlier, Cecile Ross had changed “Hello, Dolly!” to “Hello, David!’ for Grandpa David’s 85th birthday to great acclaim at the El Caballero Country Club.  We all sang her revised lyrics:

from left to right: Donald Yorkshire, Nancy Weiss, Heidi Yorkshire, me, and Wendy Yorkshire is in the foreground. The Yorkshires were the children of my Mom's brother, Buddy, and her daughter-in-law, Analee.

From left to right: Donald Yorkshire, Nancy Weiss, Heidi Yorkshire, me and Wendy Yorkshire is in the foreground. The Yorkshires were the children of my Mom’s brother, Buddy, and her daughter-in-law, Analee.

Grandma and Grandpa were picked up in a 1920’s Hupmobile, and taken to our backyard where the party commenced.  The first thing they saw was our ten-year-old basset, Peter:

Grandpa Johnny with Peter

Grandpa Johnny with Peter

Then, they approached a board that was covered with events from 1921:

Grandma Lillian and Grandpa Johnny in front of a board depicting events from 1921.

Grandma Lillian and Grandpa Johnny in front of a board depicting events from 1921, including pictures of Nancy and me.

Among the many guests that came, we were honored and fortunate to have my great-grandfather, Irving Turner:

Great-Grandpa Turner with Nancy Weiss

Great-Grandpa Turner with Nancy Weiss

But the highlight of the party was the reenactment of Grandma and Grandpa’s wedding ceremony.  Cantor Brown was chosen to officiate instead of a Rabbi.  Great-Grandpa Turner made a brief speech about the approaching ceremony:

Dad with Great-Grandpa Turner and Cantor Samuel Brown

Dad with Great-Grandpa Turner and Cantor Samuel Brown

The wedding ceremony followed, and emotions flowed freely:

Grandpa Johnny and Grandma Lillian stand under the chupah(the wedding canopy).

Grandpa Johnny and Grandma Lillian stand under the chupah(the wedding canopy).

“You may now kiss the bride!”:

Grandma Lillian and Grandpa Johnny do just that as Mom and Dad look on.

Grandma Lillian and Grandpa Johnny do just that as Mom and Dad look on.

Then, a happy meeting with Grandma Lillian’s father and brother:

Grandma Lillian with her father and brother Ralph

Grandma Lillian with her father and brother Ralph

To this day, we are all grateful and astounded by Mom’s Tour de Force:  her special theme-oriented party for Grandma Lillian’s and Grandpa Johnny’s 50th anniversary.

Note:  This blog is not static, and previous posts are often revised,  with photos or videos added.  I welcome your visits and comments!

How My Great-Grandfather, Irving I. Turner, Taught Me A Valuable Lesson In U.S. History.

IMG_5936Every summer, it was a family tradition to visit Grandpa Turner before our Oregon departure.  He lived in a modest apartment on Vantage Street in North Hollywood, California.  When you entered, your nose was assaulted by cigar smoke, which seemed to permeate every piece of furniture in the living room.  His saltine crackers were in their usual plastic container.  Sculpted dogs of various breeds and sizes greeted you from a shelf.  The TV was the essential component, for grandpa was almost always watching some program when we visited.  He especially liked “the fights” and Perry Mason.

Grandpa lived to be 100, surviving a car accident and metastatic cancer of the stomach, which he was told was an ulcer.  The cancer in the stomach was removed and never grew back again.  That was about fifteen years before he died.  He never had a heart attack and maintained excellent health for most of his life.  He liked simple foods, an excellent Havana cigar and good conversation.  He was a real estate broker for many years and was honored by the business community in an article that Grandpa was very proud of.  When I visited him in a rest home, I told him he should be lucky to have a family that cares about him.  He replied with scorn:  “Family!  That’s my family!”, pointing to a picture of himself on the wall.  At that time, when he was 99, his mind began to fail him.  He kept repeating that Grandma Lillian was a “rich widow, kicking up her heels, referring to Grandpa Johnny’s death the previous year.  All in all, he was a character.  However, I enjoyed speaking with him as the following dialogue shows:

“Grandpa.  You’ve been around a long time and have seen many Presidents come and go.  Who was your favorite?  Who made the best impression?”

“They were all a bunch of bastards!”

I now draw a curtain of silence over the whole scene.

Going Back To The Stair Steps Rapid.

Just a short distance below scenic Laurelhurst State Park, off of old Highway 62, there was a clearing in the woods, which let you see down to the Rogue River.  As a child, my father sometimes took me and Grandpa Johnny there armed with a pair of binoculars to gaze down at the canyon.  I remember looking at an intimidating rapid, which Dad called “the rapid above Tucker’s”, but was known to the natives as the Stair Steps, because the river flowed over a series of ledges before it dropped into a large hole.  Just below it was The Whirlpool, a rocky bar that went into the bank, creating a large eddy of swirling water.  People used to park their cars off of ’62, and walk down a narrow path to fish there.  The beginning of The Whirlpool could be seen from the clearing.

I never knew that some years later I would be floating those same rapids, often carrying some curious passengers.  The years I spent floating from Laurelhurst State Park to the Obstinate J Ranch(rafting or inner tubing)were probably the happiest years of my life.  In 1979, the Lost Creek Dam was built, which buried those rapids forever, creating Lost Creek Lake in its stead.

The brief video below shows our view of the Stair Steps in 1961.  The rapid was considerably more difficult then, because the left channel was narrower and less forgiving.  The 1964 flood made the river wider and the rapid easier to navigate.  Nevertheless, this was the only rapid that I pulled to shore on the right to scout.  You had to locate a series of boulders to know where to drop over the main ledge into the left channel, or you could have difficulties.  Sliding over the ledge required some technical skill.  However, I’m not sure I could have inner tubed the 1961 version of the Stair Steps.  The 1964 flood took away rapids such as Tucker’s Plunge, Jackson Falls(which were not possible for inner tubing), and made rapids like Casey, Trail, Upper and Lower Obstinate J, Robber’s Roost much easier.  Some people believe that the flood was nature’s way of showing that the Rogue River was becoming an old river, with the widening of its banks.  Be that as it may, there is no denying the impact of the 1964 flood, and the changes it wrought.

“All I Have Are Memories…”

I remember the last time I spoke with Aunt Analee.  My Uncle Buddy had an advanced form of Alzheimer’s.  She told me that it was hard to see him as he was;  unable to express himself, unable to read, displaying a vacant stare.  She said that Uncle Buddy was a constant source of fun;  that he was playful, enthusiastic, worldly in business, but with a child’s innocence at heart.  “All I have are memories…”

I remember my Aunt Analee’s words as I look at my own mother, Twyla Weiss.  It is hard to believe that this thin, feeble woman, with a shrunken face, for whom every thought is a struggle, who can no longer cook, and has a confused sense of time, was once quite the opposite.  Like her Mom, Grandma Lena, she was used to giving orders, had a genius for organizing, and shared her talents with countless other women, who relied on her without questioning whatever suggestions she might make.  She was a girl scout leader, PTA President, gourmet cook, and supportive and loving companion to my father, Murray Weiss.  It must be hard for him at 91 to see how helpless Mom has become, while he still exercises and takes care of finances.  He, too, must have many wonderful memories from a 67 year marriage.

Mom is now 89 and is feeling the brunt of age.  Her world is becoming smaller and smaller.  The things she can do are dwindling.  But my mind takes me back to Mom’s many friendships, and her ability to put people at their ease.  She helped my Dad become more social, since he came from an extremely insular family.  She helped me to confront difficult circumstances, serving as a guide in troubled times.  When I was stressed, he used to tell me:  “Let your arms hang loose like a rag doll, and smile.”  Her vitality and spunk were always an inspiration.  Alas, all I have are memories…