Wednesday, July 17, 2019

In Pursuit of Elder Wisdom

      It’s funny, isn’t it……how our sometimes fuzzy thoughts lead us off on unexpected detours? I suppose that becomes all the more true when we stumble from our October years into November. Though we have learned our share of lessons along the way, by this stage of the game we are aware that some late-life questions require their own unique late-life answers.

I like to think I had the necessary answers when I was in my prime, those glory years of my fifties and sixties……a time of smooth sailing and satisfying outcomes……which probably says something about my retreating memory. 

But today, in my octogenarian November years, (at least I hope it is November.) my personal reality is changing. I am find myself bumping into the sad realization that I can no longer do what I once could. If I let myself dwell of that dour understanding it can take me places I would rather not go. 

There are days when it is hard to shake the notion that I am on a one-way street, worn out and used up, descending a long, slippery slope to its inevitable end. In those moments it feels like the positives of my life, and I have certainly had my share of those, have come and gone. Looking ahead from that perspective, trying to imagine what awaits me, it is increasingly hard to be hopeful.

Perhaps it is the latest round of immunology treatments, still treading the path of an earlier cancer diagnosis, that has me thinking these thoughts. Though the procedures are not particularly uncomfortable, the cumulative effect is enough to slow me down a bit, and remind me again of the distress that ugly ‘C’ word originally produced. 

True, by any measure I ought to be thankful for the wonders of modern medicine, and indeed I am. Three times in my 82 years I have experienced those not-so-small miracles first hand……the welcome relief of turning “cancer” into “cancer-free,” at least for the moment. Who would not be thankful for that.

Still, when those dark thoughts begin to intrude again I need to remember an earlier lesson learned. It was May and June of 2017, in a series of blogs I labeled ‘Living With Dying,’ that I first posted this bit of self-direction.


         While I wait for the doctor to determine how effective the immunology therapy has been, I want to sort through some of the options I have in mind for the future. 
I plan to l start that process with the hopeful assumption that all of us late-life folks have more resources to work with than we sometimes realize. A lifetime of hard-won elder wisdom, things we have learned along the way, ought not be dismissed……especially in our ‘down and out’ moments, when we feel our potential slipping away. At times like that we must not give up on ourselves.


So what sort of ‘elder wisdom’ do I have to draw on? Turns out there is nothing mysterious or esoteric about it. In fact, it is little more than the common sense most of us have relied on to get this far……the kind that sometimes gets overlooked when intimidation and uncertainty raise their ugly heads.

That common sense ought to include the realization that the evolving, less-than-primetime fellow who is ‘me’ must remember to pace himself. That was true in the May and August of my life. It is all the more true in October and November. Today the question has become……. what level of activity amounts to an appropriate ‘November pace’? That has become a continuing conversation for Roma and me, as individuals and as a couple. Chances are it is the same dialogue individuals and couples our age have always had. “What is a sustainable pace for the ‘new’ us?”

Most of our late-life peers understand the need to slow down and create an activity level in keeping with their declining capabilities. Though we may be inclined to resist those unwelcome realities, at some point we are forced to accept what we can’t change.

Though the challenges faced and the resulting accommodations will vary from person to person, a new, less-demanding level of physical activity will be required. No matter how much we love our gardening, or long to take on the pesky home improvements projects that need doing, there are some things that will not be done by us. That has become a given, dictated by human aging.

What are not ‘given,’ however, are the particular activities each of us chooses to include in our ‘age-appropriate pace’ profile. I don’t think I understood the importance of that freedom to choose a couple years ago, when I first addressed ‘the need to make the most of my remaining years.’ Since then it feels like I have learned a thing or two about that existential freedom.

I have learned that I can no longer manage everything on my ‘to-do list.’ Truth be told, the time has come to selectively reduce the demands on my increasingly precious time……it is more important than ever that I concentrate on the activities I really want to pursue.

Of course, there will always be those things that must be done because they cannot be set aside. But no matter what we have ‘always done,’ or what others think we ought to do……we have earned the right to devote more of our time to the things we find most comforting, satisfying, and fulfilling. Our time is precious. We ought to use it wisely, without apologizing or rationalizing.
Of course, how we use our time is a very personal thing. No two answers will be the same, nor should they be. Within the constraints of health and safety each of us should make our own choices.

So what does that mean for me? How might I make the best use of my limited time? I ask you to indulge me a few moments as I offer a personal illustration or two. If my choices strike you as childish or escapism, I respectfully beg to differ. My intent is not to hide, or turn away from a less desirable destination. Instead, these are the destinations I had in mind all along.

Even in the face of health and lifestyle obstacles, which at my stage of life cannot be ignored, I claim the right to spend as much time as possible doing what really matters to me……things like helping others when I can, spending time with family and friends, and the care and feeding of the ‘inner me.’ 

Though the two of us don’t have all that much, generally speaking we have enough. We are warm, well-fed, and blessed with the health-care professionals who keep us going. Roma fusses over me like she does with our kids. What more could I want? 

Truth to tell I know of at least one thing I would like to have more of. That would be a larger dose of the afore-mentioned ‘elder-wisdom.’ That seems to me a worthy late-life goal ……one I continue to work toward with sometimes dubious results. You see, my stumbling wisdom search has not involved reading the great thinkers of the ancient world or immersing myself in learned theological doctrines? My intellectual tastes seem not to run that deep.

Instead, what I find myself drawn to, and happily so, are the esoteric and the not-so-ancient halls of, where I can soak up the contemporary wisdom of what I consider inspirational music and stimulating travel videos. I will be the first to admit those will not fit everyone’s definition of ‘wisdom.’ Each of us is free to choose our own ‘wisdom seeking.’ These are what works for me.

Believe me, I am not being sarcastic. There are days when my personal seeking for what is real and worthy in life has me turning to YouTube……revisiting favorite European memories and exploring destinations beyond our personal travels. Or perhaps that day’s mood will have me enjoying the melodic truth of Susan Boyle’s What a Wonderful World, Simon and Garfunkle’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle, or Ian Tyson’s Four Strong Winds. Those are some of my favorites. Your’s will be different, but you can be sure they are there.

Hey, I understand. I may be the only octogenarian on the block who indulges himself in such diversions. Fact is, I think of those quiet moments as important means of ‘feeding my inner self.’ 

For years my writing, both blogging and storytelling, were an important part of that effort. Today I am inclined to settle for a more passive form of seeking……a pleasantly packaged format that settles easily on my mind. You may call it entertainment. I have decided to accept the best of my seeking as Elder-Wisdom

With that I feel a sudden urge to lose myself for a few minutes in the wisdom of Alan Jackson’s Remember When?