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OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: Blessing or bane?

by Mike Masterson | March 25, 2023 at 2:43 a.m.

"Precious memories, unseen angels, sent from somewhere to my soul ... in the stillness, of the midnight, precious sacred scenes unfold ... precious memories fill my soul."

I sometimes feel particularly bad for those who near the end of their stay in this world and have no memory of the years when their eyes were clear and their hands lacked all the wrinkles and pronounced veins. I feel even worse for those who love them that they no longer recognize.

Then I realize what a contrast exists with those in similar condition whose memories continue to function, and I wonder who's more fortunate.

Memories, while generally pleasant, can bring lament to many who find it difficult to accept that time has left them seemingly overnight, as in, "Wait, wasn't I 35 just yesterday?" or "Where have all my loved ones gone?"

Children and grandchildren provide evidence that time really has passed. Yet even for those who have retained their faculties, that revelation can still make our reality in later years seem dreamlike.

I recall my affectionate Uncle Ken who died with Bobbie, his beloved wife of 70 years, after a lengthy stay together in a Memphis-area nursing home, saying his existence seemed more like a vision than the temporary and fragile reality his senses had assured were valid for 93 years. He remembered everything about his life.

However, Bobbie spent her days smiling and happy but could not remember a thing about him or their 70 years of marriage and three children.

For him, all the ups and downs, achievements and failures, joys and sorrows, in retrospect, he explained, melded into a dream of "precious memories" perhaps emanating from and eternally stored within a place we all eventually wind up. Sounds a lot like my favorite Alan Jackson hit "Remember When."

I sometimes wonder as time ticks on what my life would be like if I could no longer recall everything that had brought me to this point, including my children and theirs.

All those Christmas mornings, family reunions, hospital stays, dental procedures, doctor's visits, siblings, laughs, sadness and chasin' life's neon rainbows, lost as if they'd never happened, much less mattered in the grander scheme.

What have I learned, you may wonder? What's my point?

Well, facing such undeniable truth has made me realize the fundamental aspect any of us has during our periods of collective consciousness is the opportunity to grow and share, the only parts that endure from the moment of birth onward. In other words, the depth and capacities of our individual spirits.

Wasted conflict

Relatedly, seen in passing: Our life, like the flash of a firefly's tail, is here then gone. So make certain to waste as much of your precious time here as possible arguing with strangers over the Internet who couldn't care less what you think of things like corrupt politics and politicians that neither of you will ever affect or change.

Just ignore the fact that none of the bluster will have mattered once you are no longer here.

Wrong Signature

I felt for my friend Gary Head of Fayetteville, the CEO and chairman of Signature Bank of Arkansas, when I read the headline that "Signature Bank" had collapsed. "Wait, that can't be right!"

Sure enough, the story was about the New York-based Signature Bank, among the nation's largest 20 banks and a few miles distant from our borders. Still, I could imagine how Head felt when he saw that headline and immediately thought of his customers.

Sure enough, within a day Head was assuring depositors and everyone reading his emails and social media posts that his Signature Bank, based in Fayetteville and owned by White River Bancshares, had absolutely no connection to that Signature Bank, and its branches in northwest Arkansas and elsewhere in the state are doing just fine. No need for concern.

Insurance rider

It's gratifying to see loyal reader Sharon Kornas continuing to contemplate ways to solve the serious problem of vicious dogs and their negligent owners.

She suggested attaching a rider to a dog owner's home insurance policy and basing the expense involved on the breed and size of the animal involved.

I would think that a rider to one's insurance would work and an additional premium would be based on the breed and/or size of the animal, along with its documented propensity for biting and worse. Owning a pit bull might add thousands annually to a homeowner's policy while a golden retriever or small terrier only a fraction of that.

She also wondered if a veterinary college has ever conducted genetic research to determine whether pit bulls or other big dog breeds known to bite and maul have some anomaly in their DNA that might be linked to their behavior.

"It might be only some dog breeds have the 'odd' gene. Out of a litter of pups, maybe only two are affected, or even just one. Or would that be too 'Brave New World' stuff?"

Sounds like a wise idea to me, Sharon.

Dedicated to calling

I continue to be amazed by the energy of and dedication displayed by Dr. James Y. Suen, the acclaimed ENT surgeon and prolific author of respected medical texts who seven weeks ago performed the extensive surgery to remove the squamous cell cancer from my neck at UAMS.

At 82, Dr. Suen during the past week has been in Ukraine with an international team of physicians and surgeons to operate on and care for injured soldiers.

Even with that on his plate, I've received an email from him checking on my well-being in recovery.

He obviously is a believer in the truth that it's only the things we do to benefit others that survive our mortality in this strange world. Everything we do for ourselves is buried along with us.

Affordable retirement

A study by has found that Arkansas is the 11th most affordable state in which to retire.

This comes during concerns about inflation cutting into fixed incomes, rising interest rates, bank closures, and Social Security solvency.

Americans are retiring four years later than they were in 1991, according to an August 2022 Gallup poll. And the place seniors choose to retire will have a major impact on their finances as income, taxes, and expenses vary widely by state, which leaves Arkansas in relatively good shape, according to Seniorly.

The website and platform for senior living formed its conclusions using the most recent data from the Census Bureau, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center. Eight financial metrics were analyzed from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., including retirement income, tax rates, cost of living, health-care costs, and senior poverty rates.

Arkansas has an average retirement income of $27,319, the average annual Medicare spending per beneficiary is $11,284, and 79.9 percent of seniors 65 and older spend less than 30 percent of their income on housing.

Six of the 10 most affordable are in the Mountain State region: Wyoming (No. 1), Utah (2), Montana (3), Idaho (4), Colorado (6) and New Mexico (7). The remaining states in the top 10 are Virginia (5), Delaware (8), West Virginia (9) and Tennessee (10).

Seven of the 10 most expensive locales for retirees are on the East Coast: Massachusetts (51), New York (50), Connecticut (49), New Jersey (48), Rhode Island (46), Florida (43), and D.C. (42), with California (47), Texas (45), and Hawaii (44) rounding out the list. Despite having a great lifestyle for seniors, Florida ranked as the ninth most expensive state due to high Medicare spending, utility bills and senior poverty rates.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at

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