My sister Luli has charisma. Her charm is compounded of her eccentricity, her humor, and her avid interest in all sorts of subjects - gypsies, lepers, neanderthals, nuns, books, cats, food, gardens - and especially other people.
Luli makes friends everywhere and all the time. Some are friendly acquaintances, like the bus drivers with whom she shares gardening stories or the copy store clerk who helps her create her homemade greeting cards. Some are new friends, like the women she meets at the gym. She’ll arrange to meet for coffee, and soon progress to lunches that can last several hours. And then she has her long-time friends - the group of writers she calls the coven, her friend Mary Jane in New York.
She has formed independent friendships with several of my friends, and arranges to have coffee with them when she comes to visit. This used to feel like poaching, but our sibling rivalry has diminished with time. (It's okay as long as I know they love me best.)
Luli’s charm has overcome the usual distance which medical professionals maintain with their patients. Like all of us, she has had her share of medical issues. The most frightening was a pulmonary embolism, which, after many horrors, led to her joining a research project on effective dosages for blood thinners. She so charmed the doctors who were following her that they asked her to describe her experience to a class of medical students, and speak on a radio program about the research.
But Luli’s most significant medical problem is not the thickness or thinness of her blood. Luli has had depression most of her life. Anyone who has experienced depression in themselves or a loved one knows it is an absolutely godawful chronic disease. Treatment is complex and long-term. Finding effective medication is a matter of heartbreaking trial and error, and some medicines will work for a while and then lose their efficacy. But medication alone is not enough to suppress the demons; I believe most experts agree that counseling is essential.
Since she moved from Manhattan fifteen years ago, Luli has been very lucky to have found a psychiatrist who suits her. And because Luli is so loveable, she and Dr. Shrink have formed a close relationship, and the doctor has gone to extraordinary lengths to help Luli through the terrible times.
A faculty member at a medical school, she is a consultant to the cardiology fitness program at a very swanky and expensive gym, which I shall call Merry Meadows. Because she believes that exercise is an essential component of treatment for depression, Dr. Shrink arranged a scholarship for Luli, who has a heart condition, to participate in the 12-week program, where trainers guide and monitor progress.
As she always does, Luli plunged in full-force, and astounded everyone at Merry Meadows with her enthusiasm and hard work. When her twelve weeks was up, she drew cartoon thank-you cards for the staff, and the program director told her she had been an inspiration to everyone, staff and geezers alike.
Meanwhile, the Merry Meadows program director has asked Dr Shrink to write a proposal for an exercise program to treat depression. I was lying in the hammock, watching a hummingbird play in the bamboo, when Luli told me about this in our daily phone call, and I immediately had a brilliant idea: the proposal should include a stipend for Luli.
Luli’s duties would include a monthly tea date with the director or a designee, who might be a program participant -Tea with Luli could be a bonus part of the treatment program. She would participate in publicity - TV or radio interviews - for the Merry Meadows program. But her primary duty would simply be Being Luli. It would be like a MacArthur Fellowship on a smaller scale.
Even when she's a teapot, she's still Being Luli
As for the stipend, $20,000 a year for the life of the program seems appropriate. (Luli said we should ask for a million, but as an old grant-writer, I told her that would look ridiculous and scare them off). In addition, Luli would get a lifetime gym membership including a trainer at Merry Meadows, and a lifetime supply of nice T-shirts to work out in. She says the participants don’t dress up, but I’m sure none of their attire is quite as stained, stretched and hole-y as Luli’s.
Finally, when Luli, aged 99 and pleasantly exhausted from her Merry Meadows workout, fails to wake from a good night’s sleep, Merry Meadows will provide a lavish funeral, and pay travel costs so her nearest and dearest can attend. This is not an exorbitant demand. There probably won’t be that many of us by then; nobody’s offering ME a free gym membership.
Note to Luli: If you look to the right you will see that you now have your own category, so you can read about yourself till the cows come home.
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