On Aging

I’ve been thinking about this post for the last few weeks. Each time I sat down to write something triggered a new fleeting thought on the subject which I furiously jotted down lest I forget it. Happened again this morning while watching a recording from last Sunday’s 60 Minutes. This time it was a report on Voyager 1 & 2 which have been exploring the cosmos since the late 70’s. The scientist in charge of the project stated that these two little spacecrafts will continue on their path well beyond the time our sun collapses in on itself and destroys Earth and most of our universe….something like five billion years from now! That really puts our little lives, along with all our problems, in perspective, or maybe not. It’s too much for my tiny brain to comprehend.

All these thoughts originated when I started to think about aging. It was triggered one afternoon when I saw my two year old grand niece actually using her mom’s iPhone. She already understood how to turn it on, go to the stored photos and videos, swipe through them and play a video. It looked as natural to her as drinking from her sippy cup. This got me thinking about the speed in which technology is changing our society, the gap between the struggle for older people to learn technology and how tiny kids intuit it. Is this going to create a bigger and bigger gap between generations? Are the baby boomers, which I’m a member of, going to have the most difficult time keeping up while the Gen X’ers, Millennial’s and the New Silent Generation progressively have an easier time? All of the sudden I was feeling old!

But then I thought ‘what does it matter’? The reason I felt left behind is because mass media messages tell us so. Just turn on the TV, go to a movie, open a magazine, turn on your computer; media is geared toward the young (except for Viagra and the myriad other ads for drugs that will fix your every problem). But the media is really only about one thing; selling you something whether you need it or not. We’re still a capitalist society based on manufacturing, marketing, selling and buying. The media’s impact is real, but is what we buy who we are? It isn’t for me. But with so much information bombarding us every minute of the day it’s not unusual, as we age, to feel left behind, just as our parents felt in the sixties and their parents felt a generation before.

Media aside, shouldn’t we each create a world which is OUR real world, for the world the media creates is no more ‘real’ than our own or that of anyone else.

Recently I received a text message from a kid with whom I went to grammar school all the way through college. Kid? Is he still a kid? He was last time I saw him!  The message had a recent photo attached of 7 or 8 ‘kids’ I grew up with. I was not close to any of them but knew them all well enough. I only recognized two; one guy looked like he hasn’t aged a day since we lived together for a summer at college and the other guy is Chinese, one of only two Asian kids in our school. The point is these were all old guys; bald, paunchy, most of them dads and granddads who had gotten old in the flash of an eye. The last time I saw them they were kids, and now they’re old guys….what happened to them in between then and now? What are all their stories?  How did they get old and why do I feel they’re all so much older than me?

And then I’m alerted to a Facebook post about this year’s 45th high school reunion.

The reunion numbers keep getting bigger and bigger! I remember my mother going to her 50th and coming back saying there were a bunch of old people there. What’s our obsession in reliving the past? My present is much better than high school ever was. But maybe not for everyone. Was four years in your teens such a significant time in ones life that we find the need to relive it every 5 to 10 years? My life experiences since that time have had a much more significant impact on who I am today. Maybe that’s not true for others, which is why they keep reliving the past.

The dichotomy for me is this; my body is that of a 62 year old male while my brain feels like it’s still a kid. Does that mean I’m immature? Probably, but I don’t really care! I think it’s better to have the attitude of someone young than that of an old person….our grandparents were old, not us. But then I get another reminder that I am a senior when a friend kindly points out that chronologically I’m no longer middle age unless I plan to live to be 124! Not likely. And I really don’t mind the senior discounts. At first I wouldn’t acknowledge I was old enough but now I seek them out (although I really don’t like the cashier asking if I’m a senior).

I watch my skin start to sag; my back aches when I get out of bed in the morning; I have to pee a couple times overnight; I don’t always follow the slang used by younger people; my short term memory isn’t what it was and the magnification of my readers increases every couple years;  the kids at the local cinema no longer ask if I’m a senior, they just know: maybe my reaction time has slowed…it has!  The list goes on and on, this is life. But life experience and the common sense that accompanies it is not something you can teach a younger person. Would I like to be 20, 30 years younger and know then what I know now? Of course, but that’s not going to happen. I still feel like I’m going to live forever, long enough to see our sun implode along with the universe (by that time we’ll have a fix for it though). I know living like this may not be realistic but I don’t believe aging should keep me from living life fully, more fully than my younger days. Maybe living each day like it’s your last is a good way to eek out all there is in life, but so is living in the moment.  After all, as a good friend jokes when we’re pushing our physical limits on the bike, enjoy it now, you’re going to be dead a long time!

Too Much Info? Sorry

I sleep naked, but that may change.

It’s not because I’m cold, or my wife asked that I put on PJ’s, or that I’m becoming modest (who sees me besides my wife?).  It’s because getting out of bed has become more difficult with each passing year.  First, I need to roll over if I’m face down, and that takes effort.  Then I need to contort my body into a position that grants me the strength to throw my legs over the side of the bed, plant feet on the floor, reach over to grab my t-shirt hanging on the end of the bed, and slip it on.  Now to perform the painful task of standing upright.  My lower back rebels as I slowly straighten, but I’m finally standing, although pant-less.  I once again reach over to the head of the bed, hunt around for my boxers, which have been pre-inserted into my sweats to make this next step easier .  But no, it’s not easy.  If I try to pull them up from a standing position my lower old-man-bedback says “NO…not today you’re not”!  If I sit to put them on it’s WWIII with my lower back.  Oh my lord, it’s painful to pull those sweats up in the morning.  So, that’s why I’m considering sleeping fully clothed.  I’d only have the act of standing to contend with….an easier way to start the day.

The first few minutes in the morning is when I feel the years catching up with me.  Granted, it’s only the first 15-20 minutes of the day that the stiff and sore feeling in my joints and lower back bother me…once I start moving around I’m really fine.  In fact I feel that at the ripe old age of 61 I’m really in the minority of baby boomers, let alone all the other age groups, of people that are in good physical condition.  Look around; obesity is a national epidemic as well as Type 2 Diabetes.  Those facts alone should scare people straight off the fast food/processed food bandwagon, but alas it will not.  The old cliche goes that ‘getting old is not for sissies’.  True, one needs to work at staying physically healthy and fortunately for me it’s not a burden….I enjoy my good physical health and make it part of my lifestyle.  Our friends, who are mostly very active people like ourselves, also make their physical health a life priority which makes it easier for us.

Sure, I can’t control my hair loss or what’s left on top from turning gray.  My skin is not as elastic as it once was and my vision failed the day after I turned fifty (I have ‘readers’ in every nook and cranny of our home and cars).  But for what I may have lost physically over the years I hope I’ve made up by being smarter about physical endeavors.

“Those who think they have no time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” Edward Stanley (1826-1893)

But what of the brain?

While I feel the affects of aging on my body, sometimes I feel my mind has aged much, much more slowly.  Our parents and grandparents generations appeared to have an ‘older’ mindset, while our generation has learned to age with less of a willingness to get old, something our baby boom mindset won’t allow.  True, it does get more difficult to keep up with technology, but I feel smart enough to take advantage of technology that I need and not concern myself with what is clearly not meant for me.  Memory does start to slip but there are ways around that.  I use tools of my own design to exercise my memory; instead of using rote memorization I use visual cues to help remember names and places.  I tend to remember more through visualization.  I periodically go through a list of people whose names I often forget and work at remembering them.  I still have a difficult time remembering names when I first meet someone but that has always been a problem for me and I don’t believe age has made it worse.  I also try to exercise my brain, continuing to learn by reading a variety of writings, going to plays, museums, galleries and by limiting my television viewing to movies, documentaries and the occasionally well crafted short run dramas and comedies that are so plentiful on the small screen today.  I meditate daily, which is a great tool for focusing the mind both during meditation and at other times.  And  physical activity is also great for the brain.

“The wiser mind mourns less for what age takes away than what it leaves behind.” William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

While my body may be 61, my brain age is about 24!  I know, if I was able to go back to my 24 year old self I’d feel differently, but the point is I feel young mentally; not immature (although my wife may disagree) but still open to living life to its fullest; physical activities, travel, learning, a thirst to know and do more regardless of what my body tells me.  Of course I’m not fooling myself; I look in the mirror and see my age, but sometimes I have a difficult time reconciling the person looking back with the person inside.

Perhaps men really are just big boys.

No matter one’s successes or failures males tend to have a little boy about to surface.  Maybe I feel that way because of my birth order (youngest of three); or that I don’t have children of my own; or perhaps I’m not as mature as I like to think (which I’m okay with). But perhaps what’s most important is continuing to feel excited about life, all the things we like to do and the people we involve ourselves with, the same as I felt when I was 24!

Regardless, I like that I feel young, and I don’t dwell on the time when I no longer will.  It will come, but I’ll fight it as long as possible.

“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” Betty Friedan (1921-2006)

On Turning Sixty

Ok….I can take a hint; “get your butt in gear and start writing again”,  “haven’t seen your blog in too long of a time…..have you been that busy”,  “we know you took a long trip, a couple short trips, you’ve most definitely seen plenty of movies….what’s up?”  Got that twice this past Black Friday.  Well, one thing is a definite…..I wasn’t at the mall!

Writers block?  Maybe…..can’t really say.  Lack of motivation?  Maybe, although I’ve got plenty to write about.  Maybe I just wanted to let the thoughts and ideas congeal and then burst forth like a volcano, or maybe more like projectile vomit…..you get the idea, I don’t have to spell it out (although I just did).

The topic that has occupied my mind the last couple months has the title, “On Turning Sixty”, a worthwhile topic as it’s a milestone of sorts.  I’ve been thinking about it ever since my wife turned sixty a year and a half ago (yes, she’s a cougar…almost 18 months my senior).  But seriously, I felt that since she turned sixty I’ve been counting down the days until it was my turn, and those 18 months seemed to drag on forever.  But that’s not such a bad thing.  I’ve been able to observe her foray into that world and I’ve learned quite a bit, such as sixty is not so much different from 59 which is not so different from 58, it’s just a number, albeit a big one.

But (there’s always a but), with this milestone birthday I have been thinking a lot about aging.  I’ve been thinking about the difference in our lives (meaning our generation, and in particular my everyday relationships) and that of our parents.  Even though my parents never acted like old people- unlike my grandparents who always seemed old- sixty year old’s today seem so much younger, more active, more involved in activities that would have never been on my parents radar.  This is partly due to our lifestyle which is based on physical activity (check out this article about physical activity and brain function) and healthy living so we can continue to enjoy doing the things we love for as long as possible.  New research has shown that a positive attitude toward aging will keep one in better physical condition.  The research has shown that if you, your friends or relatives say you’re too old to do physical or mental activities your body will react by deteriorating quicker…..and the opposite is also true.  Good to hang out with folks that don’t look at their age as a reason to slow down.

Over the years, actually since college when this thought made a big impact on me, I’ve been thinking about the book and philosophy of Be Here Now by Dr. Richard Alpert be here now(Ram Dass).  It’s such a simple topic written about by many scholars (and some not so scholarly), but none in such simple and straight forward terms; live in the moment, not in the past and not in the future…live for the moment.  I’m speaking in philosophical terms; we’ve planned for the future financially etc., but that’s not what I mean here. It’s a given that the older we become the more we think about mortality; the end of this physical life, which we know is a sure thing (the afterlife may be a topic for a future blog).  Living life in the present not only keeps one from dwelling on the fact there is an ‘end’, it keeps you feeling younger, it keeps you feeling vibrant, it keeps experiences fresh, it keeps you desiring new experiences, it keeps you feeling eternal.

As I age I seek experiences that have importance, deep and meaningful.  I don’t want the spaces between experiences to be prolonged, but those spaces are important to enhance the experience.  I’d like to be traveling full time but then it becomes a job….you need the breaks.   I’m not interested in racking up experiences like a collection of stamps; I seek out experiences that have meaning that add to who I am, now.  Not all my experiences have to be extreme; could be reading and understanding a great book, preparing a meal for the first time, cycling a new route, or exploring a new country. Experiences are personal and have a different meaning for each individual.  The best I can do for me is to stay healthy so I can continue to have new experiences and keep growing as long as possible.  Here’s to the next sixty years, but for now I’m Being Here Now!

 

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