Think I missed my 70s

Can ten years pass that quickly? Maybe I need to wake up.

When I turned seventy, Obama had just become the President of the United States. I was about to launch my ‘career’ as a school bus driver in our college town transporting nice kids to good schools.

When our family wanted big box stores or a multiplex theater, the city was only about 10 miles away. The airport could be reached in less than an hour.

The Connecticut River was a part of the incredible beauty of our place. Various critters visited our deck to eat birdseed and giant white pines surrounded us.

I am proud to say that exercise and diet helped me stay active. Great medical facilities offered solutions to many of my health problems and allowed me to avoid some of the natural aging issues. I didn’t consider myself ‘old’ at all.


In short, I had it made, right? Of course not; it doesn’t work that way. My seventies had their own pitfalls, roadblocks, and detours.


My school bus was exponentially longer than our Ford Focus and I backed into objects more than once. A hibernating problem from my clergy days raised its ugly headed and did not get resolved.

We tearfully dropped off our oldest child at college, a thousand miles away. My spouse began law school while maintaining her job as the pastor of a big church.

We moved from New England to the Midwest and after three not-so-happy years, moved back.


Whew, the years zipped by. I wish I had been more aware of some of the events in my life. On the other hand, as I reconsider them, I wasn’t completely oblivious. In a longer memoir, I could explain just how rich my seventies turned out. I didn’t miss too much.


So, this is obviously not how I envision my seventies. Instead, more a retrospective, one which reminds me that it was ‘life as usual’. What’s wrong with that? Consider, as they used to say, the alternative.

Maybe next time, I might write about how I envision my eighties. I hope they are not always as challenging as my seventies but I would welcome all the positive experiences.

It won’t happen that way but so what? As I get closer to sunset, I try to live one day at a time. Every little bit is rich experience. It is life.

I have lived 80 years but have I learned anything?

Actually, I have found no sane way to avoid aging, so I am going to refine my eldership before I run completely out of time

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Once during a Q & A session at a political forum, a woman prefaced her question by saying “Astonishingly, I turned 80 last week.” I now know exactly what she meant because I just did, too.It is a cliché that we feel one age in our mind, but we are chronologically another. Or as the legendary pitcher, Satchel Paige, famously said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”

Meanwhile there are mirrors, group photos, upgraded pains, and the nice, but sometimes a bit tongue-in-cheek, compliments: “You can’t be 80! I would have never guessed that.”

So, what now? I will call myself an ‘elder’. I don’t really seem to have much wisdom. I do have some, even though much of it seems to have come lately. Maybe one has to trade off: One gem for each new ache.

So, here are a few I have accumulated.


Screw guilt

*Have you murdered someone? No? Then forget all that junk from your past.

In 12 Step programs, essential work is to “take a personal inventory” and then to let it go and move on. Not possible, you say? Then try to change the past. Talk about impossible.

Shame is in the eye of the experiencer

Sometimes it is natural to feel ashamed, but ask yourself, why?

Let’s say, no one knows or ever will know that about which you are ashamed. So, try this: Stand in front of a mirror and repeat after me, Shame begone!

Ok is just OK

A relentless TV commercial makes fun of people who are not perfect. “Just OK is not OK, but is that true?

While there are some things that have to be almost exactly right but for most of what we do or are, OK is definitely enough.

Being in control is a hopeless quest

If you have ever been called a “control freak”, sit down and ponder that accusation.

This wisdom came from my daughter. I was once half worrying and half grieving over someone’s situation. When I told her how I was feeling, she simply said, “You can’t control anything in life.” A radical statement but simply true.


That’s it for now but after writing this, I remember that “I know a lot of things because I have seen a lot of things.” That phrase may be the best definition of elderhood. If you are anything like me, I bet you have much wisdom, too


(*If you have actually murdered someone, “that is above my paygrade.” Sorry)

“Rage against the dying of the light?” or “Let go?”

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Soon bears us all away;
We fly forgotten, as a dream
Fades at the opening day.
-Issac Watts, 1719; alt

It used to annoy me when someone use “passed away” for “died.” I am glad to say I have come to see that everyone can, and maybe should, use any euphemism that helps in grief.

Changing my mind may have to do with my age.

Thirty-five years ago, in a small group of Unitarian University clergy, I took part in a mini-debate about whether, as Dylan Thomas wrote, we should “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” or simply, as the 12 Step phrase reminds us, just “Let go, let god.” As I have hinted, I argued that we ought not “go gentle into that good night” while others, with the gray hair I now possess, suggested that faith, and a longer view, made them see that dying should be not a struggle but an acceptance.

There are certainly tragic deaths for which “passed away” seems a ridiculous description. School shootings, tsunamis, childhood cancer, just to mention a few, are events for which “died” is the only appropriate word.

But there are, every day, the examples of humans who have simply gone the way of all creatures. A stalwart church member in Hanover was over a hundred at the end. A dear Bailey family friend just went at over a hundred My mother was 96. It is just the way life is.

This concept is more difficult for those who are left behind. No matter how old the person may be we still never want that day to come. I thought this when we lost Bill Coffin and, in another way, when  George Carlin had a fatal heart attack. What they were to us and their closest love ones make the passing away to be filled with utter loss.

There never really is enough time and as we approach the end of our days, that becomes more poignant. For me, the concept of passing away which comes to us all, helps me to use the time I do have in a more meaningful way.

The days of our lives

dad, sisters and i cropped
My father and his children. c. 1956

On New Year’s Eve we had a funeral at 2nd Church Newton. We celebrated the life of a man who was 106 years old, born in December of 1912.

Had my father not died at an early age he would have been 106, too. In fact, his birthday was actually on December 31, 1912. He jokingly told us that he wasn’t sure how old he was, especially since was born near midnight. Born in ’12, at 11:30 PM, 106; born in ’13, at 12:30 AM, 107? Not really but fun to think about and no wonder it was confusing.

He had a short life ending with couple of heart attacks, the first at age 53 and the fatal one at 56. He smoked as most men did then and had a nerve disease that required him to start using a walker in his 40’s. Cardiac imaging and coronary artery bypass surgery were in their infancy but who knows how those advancements would  have helped anyhow.

I guess you could say that I was close to my father. I worked with him in his wholesale hot dog business in my high school years. Memories of delivering many seven pound boxes of bulk wieners on the Jacksonville Beach boardwalk are seared into my brain.

I have outlived my father by quite a few years but does more time mean that much? I have good quality of life, all in all, I have been able to take advantage of modern medicine. I share life with a wonderful woman who is the mother of our two great children.  They undoubtedly want me to stick around and I plan to do my best. So for them if not for me, added years would be excellent

I  have no meaningful answers but about the simplest yet most profound way to see it is this: “The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.” –Martin Luther King

************

Afterthought: One memory I treasure more than others is when years later he told me that to the contrary, he hadn’t pushed me into the ministry. He had hoped I would take over Turner Distributing Company.

 

Slow and steady wins the race

No one would have ever associated the word “meticulous” with me. “Measure twice, cut once”? Ha, not me. Before the days of computers, I was a bank teller once and my claim to (in)fame was that  my drawer never seemed to balance at the end of the day. Can I ever find a tool I need for a little DIY? So what, just go get another one. Well, you get the picture.

The Tortoise And The Hare
That’s me with the carrot

But then something happened, the fault of the stairs.

From the summer of 2015 until this past August, we lived in apartment buildings with elevators. There were of course curbs, steps to a church entrance, and quite a few places where finding the accessible path was mysterious but mainly, I had no stairs to worry about.

We now live in a parsonage that has four levels and a significant set of front and back porch stairs. Oh and, as you might guess, no elevator or ramp. So, along with what might be called ‘normal aging’ unsteadiness, this house changed my approach. I now think carefully approaching the stairs, I make sure I have free hand to put on the railing, and take each step all by itself.

You see, I don’t want to fall. I’ve “been there, done that” as they say. Once a few years ago, I stepped down from the low stone wall in our driveway in New Hampshire and crashed. It always comes as an unbelievable surprise so, being unprepared, my forehead hit the asphalt. Fortunately, I was still conscious and could get to the kitchen for ice. On another occasion, in the Twin Cities, riding a rental bike I attempted to dismount and fell instead. A bit embarrassing but no too serious. Then there was the time, in our apartment parking space, when I tripped on some broken concrete and landed on my knee. The worse part of that one was the hole in my new jeans. (Luckily, my spouse is an expert seamstress so she patched them, at least)

After a certain age, falls become much more of an issue. It is logical but very annoying, if you want to know. The Notorious RBG fell recently and broke ribs. Leonard Cohen’s death was a result a fall. In our family, the person we call ‘Gma’ just fell and broke her collarbone. Not just annoying, but a dangerous thing to do.

Being careful goes against my grain but then again, so does killing myself. Now days, call me, meticulous.

Aging Together

How do you explain aging to a 30-year-old? It is, after all, something you have to experience.

On the other hand, you could learn from an “old” or, as I like to call it, an “aging” person.  Most of us –see what I did there?– are more than willing to share what we have discovered. (Caution: If you start us talking, it is tricky, in most cases, to get us to stop)

I pondered this quite a bit earlier this year as we saw our wonderful Eeyore-we called him Sorske most of the time- come to the end of his feline life journey. I often compared us, he struggling to breathe and I walking with arthritis pain.

We both used tried and true survival instincts, mostly unconscious, such as moving around, eating, checking out the weather on our iPhone. (I made up that last one. Sorske never got the smart phone concept)

I learned a lot from him because he kept doing the cat things like sitting in front of my recliner waiting for me to pick him up or finding some very hidden place to curl up for a nap.

On one of his very last days he did a very familiar thing, a poignant moment for me

Sorske helping

He came over while we were putting together an IKEA cabinet, walked out on the box and “offered to help.” I grabbed my phone to make sure I got the shot above.

It may sound cliché, but aging is not easy. Things that got us here like exercise, weight control, keeping humor intact, are harder and harder. One way I do it is to remember the last 6.2 miles of every marathon I ever ran. It was a lot more fun before I hit that wall but the race is a race. 20 miles isn’t the end so I didn’t stop.

Does all this help to understand, young people?