The Fear of Aging or the Aging of Fear

fear-elderly-aging-phobia-gerontophobia

Have you noticed that some of your friends are less bold than they used to be?  The older people get, the more things they seem to be afraid of.  Some people are afraid of aging, but many more people exhibit what I call the “Aging of Fear.”  Wise people tell us that fear is natural and healthy, but it can also be unnatural and unhealthy.  The healthiness of fear depends on two things.

First, how realistic are your fears?  The reality of fear can be thought of as a form of risk analysis.  We all conduct our lives with an intuitive analysis of the risks that our behaviors either entail or might entail.  Frequently, these risks are distorted by emotions and perceptions.  If I live in Wisconsin, I should be more worried about bee stings or a tick bite than a shark attack or a tiger eating me.  It would be unrealistic to worry about things that are less likely to happen.  Surprisingly, many people are more afraid of things that have a low-risk potential than things that have a higher risk potential.  (What’s the Risk?)

bearsafety_3_1Second, what are you going to do about your fears?  Fear is an adaptive mechanism.  It helps to keep you alive.  If you are in the woods and walking down a trail and see a large bear or cougar coming towards you, it is quite healthy to have some degree of fear.  But fear alone is not going to save your life.  If you are paralyzed with fear you may just be eaten.  Fear is an alarm.  An alarm sounds to wake us up.  The next step is to do something.  Doing something is a risky effort with no guarantee of success.  Sadly, there are few guaranties in life, but the evidence seems to suggest that doing nothing is worse than doing something.  This is where forethought and preparedness come in.  One of my favorite quotes is by the Roman philosopher Seneca (died 65 CE) who once said that “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

titanic-feat1

People who think ahead and try to identify potential negative consequences of their actions have a better chance of survival than people who do not plan ahead.  The Titanic is a great example of poor planning brought on by hubris.  They were so confident that the spotter in the Crows Nest did not even have a pair of binoculars.  In chess, a good player looks at lines of play to see what might happen given any particular move on their part.  Strategic thinking entails looking into the future to see how our behaviors or actions will play out.  If I do this, what might happen?  The more we look into the future the greater the odds become in our favor for getting the results we want.  It is of course impossible to identify every conceivable consequence either intended or not of our actions.  Life is frequently about dealing with unintended consequences but there is little doubt that the Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared” has a lot going for it.

young man looking at an older himself in the mirror

The “Aging of Fear” is what I see in so many people who grow more and more afraid of life with each passing day.  I have friends who will not travel anymore.  Some of my friends are afraid to travel by plane.  Some have purchased concealed carry permits to protect themselves against an unknown assailant.  Every day more and more people in America seem afraid of something.  There are efforts to protect ourselves as we get older that make sense.  I have given up motorcycling.  Most of the people I used to ride with have also given the hobby up.  Falling off a motorcycle at the age of 75 or older will likely bring many more injuries to the human body than falling off the same motorcycle at the age of 25.  Anybody over sixty getting up on a roof in winter needs to have their head examined.  Older bodies are not as resilient as younger bodies.

Knowing when to hold them and when to fold them is one of the secrets of growing older gracefully and living a long and healthy life.  But planning for unintended consequences is equally as important.  There is a balance here that we need to find, adjust, and continually readjust as we get older.  It is a not a static effort that you do today and that is the end of it.  Each day requires rethinking and readjusting what we can do and what we should do.  The conscious reflective activity is crucial.  Without an intelligent appraisal of life, fear can put us in an early coffin.

hqdefault

The coffin might be our bed or our home or our neighborhood.  A coffin is a metaphor for a set of boundaries.  The realism of our boundaries is vital.  Too many boundaries and we are not living but too few and our lives can be cut short much sooner than then they need to be.  One of my favorite motorcycle aphorisms was “If I ride like there is no tomorrow, there won’t be.”  I would tell myself this each time I got in the saddle of my Yamaha Super Sport R1 and went for a ride.

downloadDylan Thomas said, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” I don’t know about the raging part of his poem.  I prefer thinking about my life as I get older and not raging.  But he makes a good point.  It is all too easy to give up on life as we age.  We can live in memories of what we used to do, or we can find new activities and new levels to pursue old activities at.  For instance, I may not have the stamina to play tennis or racquet ball anymore, but I can still play pickleball or go for a short ride on my bicycle.  I used to do six-minute miles in road races.  My personal best was 38.48 on a 10K.  The race I ran for Frederic Family days this year on June 12, 2021, I averaged 10.14 per mile for a 5k.  Quite a bit off of my pace from years ago but I still got my t-shirt.  I run for t-shirts these days and not trophies.

Senior-couple

To conclude.  Don’t let aging or fear rob you of living.  Well thought out days with lots of contingency plans can help you to continue to live a full and happy life.  Look around you for the 80, 90 and even 100-year-old elders who are still out there enjoying life.  What keeps them ticking is not giving up but meeting each day as a challenge to live life to the fullest.

3525 – Friday, September 6, 2019 — Those Were the Days My Friend!

maxresdefault

My blog this week is based on a song that was made popular by Mary Hopkin’s in 1968.  The original writer was Gene Raskin.   Gene added English lyrics to a Russian song called “By the long road” which was composed by Boris Fomin (1900–1948).  The song in its many manifestations had continued to be about reminiscence and youthful idealism.  In my version below, I have taken some liberties with the lyrics and have added my thoughts on age and youthful idealism.   If you care to listen to the Hopkin’s song while reading my blog, click on the following link and then return to my site. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QptZ8tYZAkE

Once upon a time we shared a dream
When we believed that we were special
And we laughed away our evenings
Thinking of the success that would bring us great esteem

I grew up loving science and mathematics.  In the late fifties and early sixties, the space age was just beginning.  I wanted to be a part of the new wave of exploration and I dreamed of becoming an astronaut.  I read books on physics and relativity and quantum theory.  I believed that knowledge was the key to achieving my dreams.  Somehow, I never thought that my desires were above my head or possibilities.

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d dream and dream forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

When I finished high school. I knew what Harvard and Brown and Yale stood for.  If you had money or were the siblings of any alumnus, you could apply to one of them.  If your father was a postal worker and your mother a part-time clerk at Woolworth, you had neither pull nor money.  The money probably mattering only slightly more than the connections or pull one needed to get into an Ivy League school in the sixties.  Truth be told, I did not even have the money or grades to get into a state college.  Without a college education, my dreams of becoming a pilot or an astronaut were shear fantasy.

A few weeks after high school, the only real possibility I had for a future was in the United States Military.  The war in Vietnam was starting to ramp up when I graduated in 1964 and it was said that the service would take a warm body.  I applied and did very well on the military exams.  I decided that I liked the Air Force uniform better than the Navy, Army or Marine uniforms.  Up and away on my first airplane ride to Lackland AFB for basic training.

Then the busy years went rushing by me
I lost my starry notions on the way
If by chance I’d see you in the city
We’d smile at one another and we’d say

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d dream and dream forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

I married while still in the service.  I was only 21 and my wife Julie was only 20.  Julie was several months pregnant when we married.  Somewhere along the way she became very sick and was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.  She spent several months in the University of Minnesota hospital while pregnant with our first-born child Christina.  Christy arrived while Julie was still in the hospital and in 1968 I was ordered by a young nurse to help out in the delivery room.  Thus, I was on the forefront of the new age for fathers and husbands.  Something, I was reluctant at the time to join.

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d dream and dream forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

The years have flown by since then.  Many friends have either passed away or orbited out of my universe.  My first marriage ended in divorce.  My daughter has not spoken to me for nearly twenty years now.  My dreams of business success have become so much flotsam in a sea of failed possibilities.  Always told how smart I was, my intelligence never seemed to add up to anything that I could put in the bank.  Dreams of greatness in some non-financial endeavor (which became my fallback position) are now floating away alongside of my business aspirations.

Just tonight I stood before my mirror
Nothing seemed the way it used to be
In the glass I saw a strange reflection
Was that broken person really me

I am now fighting the battle of growing old.  Energy forfeiting time to naps.  Days spent in a doctor’s office.  Buying sympathy cards by the dozen.  Learning to be a caregiver.  Dealing with an ever-increasing number of aches and pains.  Muscles that do not respond or recover as quickly.  Friends that spend what seem like long hours describing medical conditions and treatments.  Loved ones that I worry about more and more.  Trying to figure out what is appropriate for the next funeral.  Wondering if there is something else besides “My condolences” that I can say.

Through the parlor door there came familiar laughter
I saw your face and heard you call my name
Oh my friend I am a great deal older but no wiser
For in my heart, the dreams are still the same

My dreams, I never gave up on you.  I substituted hard work and determination for luck and chance many years ago, but they did not prove a path to you.  You might think me shallow or that I abandoned you, but nothing could be farther from the truth.  Hardly a day goes by when I don’t think about giving you one more shot.  I ask myself if ten years is enough, for that is about what I have left.  My self-bribe is that it is never too late as long as I do not give up hope.  But is my heart really in it?  Do I want you bad enough to keep on fighting for you?  I somehow sense a certain futility, like taking another turn at bat is not going to get me a home run.  Hard to admit, but maybe I never was and never will be a home run hitter.  Is this a battle that I am going to lose in this life?

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d dream forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

Those were the days, oh yes those were the days!

 

 

%d bloggers like this: