Wednesday, October 24, 2007

On Aging...

“It is to be assumed that if man were to live his life like a poem, he would be able to look upon the sunset of his life as his happiest period, and instead of trying to postpone the much feared old age, be able actually to look forward to it, and gradually build up to it as the best and happiest period of his existence. “
Lin Yutang: The Importance of Living , 1937

The Chinese of yore seemed to have mastered the art of aging and Lin Yutang’s quote seemed to distill that wisdom in just a few pithy sentences. It’s worth passing along.

In past time the problems associated with long life were minimized by the fact that few lived long enough to be problems. An agrarian family centered life style required all family members to be productive, and so those who were able bodied and aged could still contribute to the welfare of the family unit. Those who were seriously impaired were ministered to by the family and their church until their passing

In the present, there are significant numbers of people who have attained retirement age. Retirement is often a time of new beginnings and opportunities, when the system allows choice to be a significant option. “Aging” is now an appellation to be applied only to people who have begun to experience some physical limitations due to chronic conditions. When Lib and I began to be limited to how long we could stand, walk, or square dance due to spinal stenosis we began to understand what it meant to be “old”

Just as the first quarter of life implies birth, the last quarter implies death. One of the tasks of those who have begun to “age” is to make our peace with that event. Some desiring more control at their end have “living wills” that give clear instructions when that eventuality arrives. It is wise to plan for this future event. We plan down to the minutiae for less significant happenings, but put off this one maybe in the subconscious hope that somehow it will bypass us. Having said that let’s go on to more pleasant considerations.

The last thing any of us should want to do is to have nothing at all to do! To have nothing to do is to be irrelevant. The life experience stored in the head of each older person is often of great value, so one of the functions of age is to be in a consultative mode. Men and women who have been parents find themselves to be grand parents and this can be an enriching experience. If one has experience in the professions, this often may be parlayed into a part time job which again is a good thing for most. There is much to be thankful for even when some physical limitations close the door on some very pleasant activities. As one woman told me when discussing this topic “ can be thankful when one wakes up in the morning to know who you are!”

Because time is of the essence take the opportunity to do some new activities. Travel to new places. Try a new hobby. Look for opportunities to serve in the community. Volunteer. Be a docent. Do activities that bring you in close contact with people. Cultivate relationships with family and friends. Do it with vigor and purpose. This will make your last years much more enjoyable. Financial situations can limit some activities, but there are many things one can do that are free and only require time and mobility.

Often our aches and limitations become the main themes of our vocal utterances and this makes us boring. More than any other population segment we need to cultivate the attitude of gratitude for what we have left that does work. Looking back over the writings of our little group, I believe most of us are doing the positive things that gerontologists might recommend. We posed a little challenge to ourselves when we answered Verda’s invitation to join a “writer’s” club. I had already begun to write my memoirs, and it is still an unfinished work. Writing takes time and thought, and is an activity that is pleasant for me.

I admit to not being very enthusiastic about our move to Richmond. My blogs of that period show frustration and trepidation. There were friends and activities we were leaving behind. A whole new life would have to be constructed in a new and strange environment. It would be financially costly. And I feared that shortly after all the huge effort and cost one or the other of us would really become incapacitated and a whole new set of problems would have to be dealt with. Fortunately, none of that has happened yet, so I’m trying harder to put a positive spin on it all. Certainly, we have enjoyed the new home. Every day its airy spaciousness buoys the spirit. And it is wonderful to be nearly next door to Cathy’s family and see them almost every day!

We haven’t stopped seeing old friends. There are good reasons to return to Roanoke on some weekends. In two and half hours we’re there. Our church family provides places to stay and more opportunity to visit intensely. The Net provides another way to stay in touch with the lives of a wider circle of friends. Because it is so fast, emails now have replaced regular mail and is more frequent. Here I have joined a community symphony and it keeps me practicing and playing my instrument. We are looking around for another church fellowship ...there are many considerations and I’m sure that in the near future we’ll finally make the correct decision.

I’m thankful each day that I know who I am, that I can still be useful musically, and that there is so much life to savor each day. Fall is one of my most favorite seasons and I have been permitted to enjoy it once again this year in a new locale. Yes, there is some pain to deal with, but it’s manageable. Lib’s sense of humor and upbeat approach to living keeps me from dissolving into an old curmudgeon. Like Verda, I hope that my end comes swiftly. Cheers!

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