Monthly Archives: January 2016

My Take On Aging

Growing old is not what we think it is.

Age is a mental state. How old or young we are depends on our attitude.

To trade a fun carefree lifestyle for one of parenting and understanding health insurance deductibles does not make one old no matter how many revolutions around the sun one has taken. It does require increased wisdom though.

Do we need to make that trade in the first place? Combining them could lead to mental exhaustion, but age brings a wisdom which enables us to learn to create balance. By doing and growing, we learn from our mistakes. That is, unless we aim to eliminate mistakes. That is a true problem. Some of us are so afraid of failure, we’ll tolerate nothing less than perfection. Success is most definitely possible for everyone, but we must drill through failure in order to achieve it. How long we take to do it depends once again on attitude.

We always take daily calculated risks. When we are physically younger, we misunderstand the difference between crazy and stupid. Those of us who survive eventually know that difference, yet we still choose to flirt with the potential disaster that comes from drinking too much or trying to learn skateboarding at a construction site. A more realistic example of this might be families who allow one parent to take on the entire work load while the other desperately hangs onto a youthful lifestyle.

In 2015, I turned 40. As I filter that thought, I’m reminded of when my dad turned 40. I thought to myself, “No, no, no. He was older. He wore ties every day and had neatly combed hair. I still feel young! I wear jeans & T-shirts and my hair looks like I crawled out of bed! I still have earrings and love hard rock music!”

Here are some more interesting things I’ve thought about for all of us born in or around 1975:

Like many people our age, I still identify myself as a 20-y-o living in an aging body. My dad seemed very much an adult back then and I recall thinking that I’d never let that happen to me, that I’d hang onto my youth forever. Naivety is powerful in the young. My mind seems to work about the same as when I was in college. Well, not really.

In college, I was more likely to actually drive a car over 100 mph than just think about doing it. I was more likely to stay up all night by choice instead of necessity. I was more likely to take my anger out by destroying inanimate objects back then. It’s as if I still want to do all those crazy things but I choose not to, because I know what the results would be either way it goes. Venting anger and acting stupid is a waste of energy. That, folks, is what I call wisdom.

While I generally have the overall wisdom of a single-celled organism, the human species gradually adjusts behavior so as to avoid discomfort, disorder, to conserve energy and to nurture the next generation of living spawn. Somehow, as we get older it gets easier to make the choices to be responsible, even if we really want to go hanging off of a Russian crane. The fact is, growing wiser is about learning to embrace the uncertainty and disorder that life brings, and being strengthened by adversity. I am just starting to read a book that deals with this topic.

But here’s the best part in my theory. Age, being based on attitude, can be changed, altered or improved. While our bodies get older and wear out faster, we can choose activities and lifestyles to make them better. If we really want to feel young and full of energy and vigor, we must make the choices that get our bodies to work with us instead of against us. This means we have to eat like an older person, which is to say, fewer calories than those in an entire pizza. It means ingesting a lot more plant matter and a lot less stuff to make them taste good. It means having to run an extra mile three times a week instead of just sitting there or doing a few situps once in a while.

The clincher is that we get ourselves so busy being adults that we forget the kids that are still alive in us. Unless we find a way to balance work with play, we’re just going to keep getting older until our body decides it’s had enough. The question is, is it really worth it? Is a life of comfort and convenience and poor health better than a life of strenuous activity and great health? We all play games, just different ones of different significance. The kid in you will play one way, the adult another.

Since, we tend to minimize discomfort and disorder, avoid conflict and failure, we miss out on the very things that hammer wisdom into us. The Bible would say things about how God chisels us into his image and it’s often quite painful for the believer.  Our 21st century lifestyles rob us of this, regardless of our beliefs.

As you continue to work into this new year, find one area in your life that has made you too busy and evaluate if you can afford to eliminate it. then, find one area where you waste time and do likewise. You’ll feel younger and be wiser for it. I call that a win-win.

Oh and tomorrow morning when I go back to work? I’ll have combed hair and a necktie. And I love it.

The Time is Now

A little over a week ago, as my family and I were preparing to head to Kentucky for the holidays, I received word that my grandmother was not feeling well. I had just spoken with her on her birthday, December 15, and she was in good spirits despite her just having returned from two weeks in the hospital. At 88, she had experienced complications of congestive heart failure.

12465828_10153811136002365_4429502327793369619_o

My brother, Jared, his daughter Lila and Mammaw on December 13, 2015

Christmas Day, as we were celebrating with my in-laws, word came that my grandmother, “Mammaw” as we called her, was hospitalized again. It did not sound overly serious to anyone, so my mother told me not to worry about it and to just stop by the hospital on our way into town. It was like a less severe repeat of what she had experienced at the end of November.

Right after I learned of this news, the hospital staff administered hydromorphone. Mammaw went to sleep and never woke. She was not yet in severe pain so I question the necessity of the timing of that decision. It’s pointless though, because I cannot change the overall outcome. The doctors had said that her body was simply shutting down and there was nothing left to do but make her feel comfortable and pain-free. That raises another question for another time: What is pain-free? 

My family and I saw her asleep on her death bed. She labored to breathe every 30 seconds or so and you could visibly see her carotid artery pulsing with vigor, diverting lifeblood away from vital organs in order to preserve the brain. The pulse was highly irregular, and her vitals included blood pressure readings so low I didn’t understand how she could still function. This was 36 hours after she had done her last load of laundry, swept the floors and made my grandfather his breakfast. I stood awestruck at biology, and how despite evidence that science can explain everything, some form of higher intelligence was at work. In that moment I realized her body was shutting down right before us, yet life itself was doing its best to hang on to the failing structure. Life, consciousness as we know it, was preparing its next move, whether that be finding a route to another plane or simply halting altogether. In the blink of an eye, mundane tasks become the last things a person does.

When you hear about an anonymous elderly person passing away of natural causes, It’s easy for the general population to feel comfortable in some way. At least the person is not suffering any longer. That person is much older than I, there’s a long time before I’ll face that for my life. They had a good, long run. Sometimes we know the fast pace of our modern lifestyles would conflict greatly with the reduced pace of the elderly, so we plan very short visits or none at all. Meanwhile, nursing homes are filled with scores of lonely people desperately wishing for the connection between their world that time forgot, and The Now that doesn’t want them. They need to feel significant, like they mattered, and that their lives DID happen. This is not a surreal veil pulled over their eyes.

For your own family, you eventually get to the point where you think, “I should talk to them more; they’re not going to be around forever,” thinking with arbitrary abandon that you’ll have another time to visit, to share a meal or a holiday celebration. I took that attitude on December 15 when Mammaw turned 88. I was at work and should have been finishing my lesson plans. I ended the short, five-minute conversation with, “We’ll see you on December 26th.” Well, we saw her. She didn’t see us. I think her soul was already gone.

You’ve heard it preached before, so you know it’s true. Stop what you’re doing and reach out to a loved one. Take that inconvenient weekend trip, make one of your clients wait so you can place a phone call, and maybe cancel some after school stuff for an evening so you can focus on someone who may not be here tomorrow. Make it a person you rarely see, or each week, contact a different friend or relative. The truth is, none of us are guaranteed the next breath. You have no true idea if you’ll ever have a tomorrow.

Your inconvenient moment could be the most uplifting thing your loved one experiences between now and the end of their life.

For Mammaw, she gets to be one of those people who can have the following dates inscribed on her tombstone:

Goldie Phelps. December 15, 1927 – December 27, 2015

That’s 12/15/27 – 12/27/15

I’m no numerologist, but those are intriguing to me.

The minister said she’s celebrating in heaven today. I want that to be true like anyone else, but death makes it difficult on the living.

Please, make the most of NOW in 2016

Tagged , , ,