I’ve been musing about aging lately. Partly because I write about aging issues under my Care Giving blog stream, but mostly because I am “of a certain age” and growing older by the minute. Today, while driving through the fall landscape, I decided this aging business was a good thing.
Science tells us we are happier and healthier when we are less stressed. Our minds and bodies connect to each other more deeply than we can imagine. I read about a man who, after his physician diagnosed him with terminal TB, decided to spend whatever time he had left in the place he most enjoyed. He did not allow bad news to spread throughout his body. He mentally and physically connected with what was good and fruitful for him.
That man was Galen Clark, now known as the Guardian of Yosemite Park. In 1857, after being given a death sentence by his physician, he settled in this breathtaking landscape. He lived on whatever he could gather — edible plants, fish from streams, water from those same streams. After carving his tombstone as a way of accepting death, he devoted his life to promoting Yosemite and protecting the giant sequoias. He had a purpose for whatever time he had left. (https://www.myyosemitepark.com/park/galen-clark )
Despite aches, pains, a bout with cancer, and caring for a loved one who battles pain daily, I would not exchange my “fall” season for a younger one. I’m wiser because I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. I’ve learned to trust God more, and thus have far less anxiety. I take time to watch the animals flit around my yard. We don’t use chemicals on our lawn, so I know they are eating well. From their numbers, I would say they agree.
Yet conventional attitudes about life cycles would have us believe the best years are our “productive” years. Childhood is a time to prepare us for life, for the workforce. Many then jump on a treadmill to achieve all sorts of goals — home ownership, advanced degrees, money, a retirement nest egg, successful children that “will do us proud,” and maybe become the head of a company, or whatever. Others struggle daily, just to get through the week. But no matter how difficult the challenges of our early and middle adult years, we fear older age. We see it as a time of entropy, of becoming less until we disappear into death.
A few years ago, I was reading about how various cultures treated their elderly. One tribe revered their elders because they knew the tribe’s oral history, but then tossed them off a cliff when they no longer remembered. (That’s probably how fiction writers came to be. Keep those stories coming, no matter what.) Yet becoming older can mean freedom from the treadmill, to do what we want, when we want. We may even extract a little retribution (in a nice way).
My son, who at age 18 pulled into the driveway on his newly purchased Harley Davidson motorcycle; my son who decided to trek alone as far north in Canada as he could get before reporting for Marine boot camp, is responsible for most of my grey hair. Now it is my turn. Rather than calling to hear how I’m feeling, I’d rather he worried, “Heaven help us, what’s she doing NOW?”
For starters, I decided if I ever need “assisted living,” which can be costly, I would sign up for perpetual cruises instead. I would get gourmet meals, cleaning services, an on-board physician if needed, and all the activities I would like — and a nice deck chair if I just wanted to chill out. It would cost less, I’d have more fun, and my son would have to find out what port I happen to be in at any time.
Yup, I like these years, and because I’m liking them, I’m hoping my body will like them too — just like Galen Clark who lived to his 96th year.