Reflections on Growing Older. Retirement and Its Rewards

#growing older #aging  #retirement

I don’t consider myself as “elderly” at age 72. The rest of the world may, but anyone who is at least 72 will still see me as I see myself—young, vital, and engaged with life. At times, of course, a reminder works into my awareness. Yesterday, for example, I got down on the floor to repair the dishwasher. All my life, I have seen older people struggle to get up from a prone or kneeling position as I did attempting to regain my feet. Awkwardness has invaded my body. When I dress in the morning, I need to be careful pulling on my boxers because I have trouble balancing on one leg. I guess that I could try to put both legs into my shorts at the same time, but I feel certain that would not turn out well. I couldn’t do that when I was 18.  So far, I consider my refusal to be seated to accomplish the task as one of the early victories in the day. Growing older doesn’t mean I have become old.

First thing also each morning, I try to remember what I had for dinner the night before and what I watched on TV. It sounds like a simple exercise. Today, I have been up for three hours, and I can’t remember the evening meal from yesterday or the movie my wife and I watched last night before retiring. It may come to me yet. Memory is a muscle. It needs to be exercised. Use it or lose it. I’ll get it, later. I remember 9 times out of 10, eventually. Growing older doesn’t mean you will lose short term memory.

Growing older and memory . . .

I remember more important things easily enough, like the bill that I need to mail tomorrow and the doctor’s appointment next week. If there is anything about being older in my failure to remember the more common occurrences during the day it is that the events I am trying to recall are so commonplace. A man logs a lot of dinners over a lifetime. He sees a lot of movies. Only the more outstanding among the thousands deserve a spot in memory, either short term or long term. It’s that simple.

Several things about growing older need to be experienced to be understood. As a young man, I observed the elders around me struggling to understand how to operate an ATM or soft drink machine. Young people walk right up to these gadgets and—slam, bang—they’re done. But their elders ponder the operating instructions as if they were deciphering an ancient Sanskrit manuscript. I avoid new gadgets like Blueray or MP3 or Bluetooth because it is painful to learn how to operate them. Besides, I don’t need a portable picture cell phone. I don’t want to watch the Vikings lose on a postcard size TV screen while I am walking the dog. Who decided all this technical crap was important anyway? If anything, life shouldn’t be more immediate as technology accelerates the experience of daily existence. Life needs to be slowed. Our moments need to be savored, free of distraction, so our sensibilities (wonderful old word) have time to harvest our perceptions and react.

For a long time, I thought that my failure to learn new tasks was caused by the refusal of the device to conform to my idea as to how it should work. Every encounter was epic man-versus-machine. Now, however, I approach every new appliance or software package convinced that I will lose the first several rounds of the encounter. I enter combat filled with mortal dread. I persist, nevertheless, and I accept it as an intellectual challenge to master the new and exotic.

Trouble is, though, that much of the new fangled gadgetry is not very intuitive, even though the term is used promote new products. Intuition doesn’t function in a vacuum. It assumes some acquaintance with the conventions of gadgetry and software. It assumes relevant experience in many areas to enable the leap to a successful outcome without laboring through the tedious, badly worded step-by-step directions. For a guy who spent the first half of his adolescence setting up an electric train layout and building Heathkit amplifiers with a soldering iron, I don’t bring a data bank rich in detail for my intuition to call upon as I attempt the shortcuts or coax serendipity to my rescue.

All my complaints notwithstanding, I have adopted a few simple guidelines that help me fend off the demoralizing effect that acknowledging growing older always induces.

Stay physically fit. You don’t need to be a muscle builder. Toning up the torso and limbs helps a person look better. A well-toned body on a 70+ plus year old looks great. Get buff, baby. Look your age! Feel better! Flab sags and wrinkles. Muscles don’t. Set up a regimen with trainer at your local gym and stick with it. Don’t be afraid of the Harley-Davidson types at Gold’s. They will treat you with respect and admiration. Yes, and you will get tired. So take a nap. In three or four  months, your workouts will energize you. You will have more stamina, not less. I have been in training for the last 33 years—ever since my first wife kicked me and I realized I needed to improve the looks of the merchandise being back on the market again.

Stay intellectually engaged. Reading is good but often too passive. Play chess. Play bridge or poker. Write memoirs. Try out for a play. Sell stuff on eBay—then your kids won’t need to throw it all out after your funeral.

Volunteer. Every community needs helpers with all kinds of programs. Volunteering involves socializing around a worthy cause. You’ll get back more than you give.

Reject the privilege of age. Living longer doesn’t bestow the right to indulge in prejudice and being judgmental. Nothing is more tiring than a person who is not open to new ideas whether in politics, religion, science or art. Work to understand an opposing point of view. Allow yourself to doubt, even with your religious convictions. Nothing is more boring than self righteousness nor more ineffective. Think you way through to new understandings. Your understanding of the issues and your perspective will grow. Remember how much you disliked your parents whenever they behaved as if nobody else could possibly be right and only they knew the real truth.

Stay in love. Once past 70, we realize that love grows on attraction and excitement to be so much more. Do something loving for your partner every day. Thank your partner for simple things like getting the car gassed up or doing the laundry. Think ahead and do something for your partner before being asked. The reaction itself is rewarding. Stay in love and every day will be happier. Happiness makes for a longer life.

The scary thing about being older, of course, is that the amount of time that one has left becomes easily measurable in meaningful terms. At 72, if I could live another 12 years, or the same amount of time it took me to go through grade school and high school, I will have outlived both of my parents by the time I reach age 83. If I could live another 20 years, I will have survived longer than my first marriage. A lot happened in my life during those periods—happy, sad, trying, and rewarding. Retirement for me does not mean withdrawing, but staying on the attack.

Time goes faster as we get older. I don’t know why that is so. Times also goes faster when I am happier. If it is going to go by faster, then all the more reason to use it wisely. If being miserable is the only option to get it to slow down, I vote against it.