Act your age

K got hit by a car 30 years ago, but it wasn’t until last week that he needed a chiropractor. He’ll be seeing him for the next few months.

D got the results of his MRI this week: he’ll probably need surgery.

W visited his sister-in-law in North Carolina, who’s dying of a rare disease that causes the skin and tissues to harden. "Of course," said W, "the truth is we’re all dying, anyway."

B said his body aches after working in the yard and wonders, "If it’s this bad at 50, what’s it gonna be like in 10 years?"

This was not a meeting of convalescents, it was the weekly gathering of my men’s group. The topic arose, as it so often does, out of the the check-ins that begin the meetings. We’ve discussed everything at these sessions from mothers and fathers to death and taxes (money, actually), but aging hasn’t come up that often. Yet it is of surpassing interest to everyone.

In the "Redefining Aging" (LINK) section of this website, I quote Picasso, who said, "I think you are however old you think you are, and I decided to be 28 all my life."

Picasso died at the age of 91, and I probably should have made that point the other night. But I’d been pretty windy about a related issue, and the conventional wisdom around aging was, for some reason, not something I felt like taking on.

My punishment was to awaken later that night with all kinds of thoughts clattering about in my mind. Chief among them was how even a group as progressive as ours is prone to the occasional lapse. We meet at a Unity church. The Unity movement was created by people whose foundational dictum was "Thoughts held in mind repeat after their kind."

Even those of us (your servant included) who don’t often attend the services agree that our thoughts create our reality. And yet when it comes to aches and pains, we blame them on an outside agency.

In fact, D said that he’d read that up to the age of 40, the body’s cells follow a particular process of regeneration, but thereafter they begin to scatter, and the body begins an inevitable decline.

That may very well be true about the mechanics and chemistry of this remarkable instrument we call the body. (My older daughter, a gifted chiropractor and healer, says, "Once you’ve studied the human body, you have to believe in God.")

But D’s explanation does not account for the input of the owner/operator. My own study leads me to conclude that my ailments and how I age depend on what’s going on between my ears. If I think, "Well, I’m getting older, I’ve got to expect stiffness and soreness," then so it will be. But I consider such symptoms as indications of a unease in my mind, and try to discover what it is.

Thomas Hanna is of the same opinion. In his book "Somatics," he writes, "Fear of aging is a product of ignorance, and this ignorance is no longer defensible, any more than the myth of aging is defensible." What’s needed, he says, are "new ‘soft’ technologies … that teach us internal control of our physiological and psychological selves." That, he says, will result in "a new myth of aging…that life is a continuous process of growth and expansion."

Jesus of Nazareth put it this way: "As a man thinketh, so shall he be."

This is not to dismiss or diminish my friends’ pain. These are my spiritual brothers. In some ways they know me better than my family does. But that conversation brought something to the surface I think we can improve on.

Yes, we’re getting older. And, barring epiphany or spontaneous transmission (transcendence is greatly underrated, I think), we are all dying. The operative question, then, is something we’ll have to answer on our deathbed: "How was the trip?"

The most encouraging words I heard that night came from the oldest man there. S is retired from a Fortune 500 company and so busy he wonders how he ever had time for work.

After listening to the others, he said, "I’m, what 65, 66?" he stopped, genuinely puzzled. "Whatever, I don’t even think about how old I am. I’m just really excited about being alive and about the possibilities, about the things I want to do."

That’s the kind of thinking Hanna is talking about, and it’s where I want to be. It’s thinking that turns aging from a death sentence into a lifelong adventure.

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1 thought on “Act your age

  1. K

    I’m the one that had a challenge with a car and lost… some 30 yrs ago.

    The key is acceptance and then moving on with that awareness. Someone greater than I posed the real question…. If I accept that I will die, then how shall I live? To be alive is to have a choice, no matter what we face. The person who thinks they have no choice is dead, they just don’t know it yet.

    John’s points are clear & unfold a fond memory for me. I am standing with my 94 yr grandfather talking & laughing about loose women & booze in his driveway. I had just turned 18 and I will forever be grateful that I was blessed with a man like him as a grandfather. He never made a lot of money, but his life was 100 yrs full when his spirit went onto his next adventure. Growing up, I always enjoyed watching my school friend’s faces as I told them that my mother was born in a log cabin that my Grandfather built. This was not a normal story for kids in Chicago.

    Anyway, as I think of him as I write this, he is never old like I view my 86 yr old father today. I have discussed this with my brothers & all of us have a vision of our Grandfather, but he is never old. He was like a God, he could out do anything we did. Row the boat around the lake, build his two story home from recycled wood when he “retired” at 65, or recover from a broken hip at 90. I remember how he wore me out chopping down tree’s with an ax. It’s only when I do the math that I realize he was 89 wearing down a 13 yr old. But my grandfather’s doing is only the paint, his essence was the thoughts behind the choices he made as he brushed his life story.

    Back to the driveway. He jokingly tells me that he knows why I am going to a close by resort town every weekend. I know why, but I ask them to elaborate. He tells me it’s for the loose women & booze. I laugh because here is a 94 yr old man that thoroughly understands what drives an 18 yr old. I ask, “how do you know?” He jabs me in the ribs, smiles, and tells me that he is not on his third wife for no reason (his third marriage last 50 yrs). I laugh and ask what does he think is the trick to growing older. He ponders it and tells me that you are only as old as you think you are. That all his friends are “old” (they are years younger than he at the time). They sit around telling themselves that they can not do this or that because they are old. It drives him nuts and I sense loneliness. He provides me more answers than I could understand at 18, but the understanding grows on me as I move through the ranks. Like right now. I’m 45 being enlightened as I write this. I now understand why he seemingly enjoyed just sitting & talking with me most summer nights when I was a kid…. He enjoyed being with someone that didn’t think of themselves as any age, loved the aliveness that kids toss about, and allowed him to be whatever age his mind was. He was free to be him and being him was the greatest gift to my family.

    Thanks Gramps.


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