3498– Thursday, October 3, 2019 — Can We Really Grow Old Gracefully? Part 1

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Let’s be honest.  Growing old is not like fine wine aging.  Growing old is not “golden years.”  Growing old means infirmity.  Growing old means watching friends and loved ones suffer and die.  Growing old means dealing with pain, doctors, medications, surgery and increasing illness.  In short, growing old sucks or does it?  Can growing old bring true happiness and meaning to our lives?  Can we really grow old gracefully?

Last week I went to a conference on care-giving.  My spouse Karen went with me.  It was held at the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in New Richmond, Wisconsin.  The title of the conference was “A Positive Approach to Care.”  The keynote speaker and also a workshop presenter was a remarkable woman named Teepa Snow.  To paraphrase a famous quote, I would say that the conference was “Not for the faint of heart.”  The participants seemed to be divided between professional caregivers like nurses and aides and family members who had care-giving responsibilities thrust on them due to the illness of a loved one.  Many more women than men were in attendance, but the demographics of the attendees included young and old alike.

The conference was a challenge for me because it touched on many topics that I would rather ignore.  If I can only keep my head down or buried in the ground perhaps the things that they discussed would never happen to me or anyone I love.  Of course, this last thought is fake.  These things are already happening to many people I know and love.  Two of my good friends are in homes as I speak with increasing dementia and not expected to live out the rest of the year.  They can no longer recognize old friends or deal with life in the forceful energetic manner that was once typical of them.  Before these things can happen to me, I want to run and hide someplace.  But there is no where to hide, is there!  The alternative is to find a way to succeed in dying and not to let dying succeed in diminishing us.  Death can take our bodies, but it cannot take our spirits.

I found ten attributes at the conference from listening to the speakers and observing and studying the stories that were told that I think can help our spirits as we age.  I am calling these “The Ten Attributes for Growing Old Gracefully.”  I have created a checklist for these attributes which I am going to use on a weekly basis to see how well I have done at following them.  If you prefer, think of these ten attributes as a multi-vitamin for emotional aging.  You may not need all ten of them each day, but at least one of these each day will certainly do you no harm and may help to make your life easier and happier.  The order of these is of no importance.

meaning and purpose

  1. A sense of purpose and meaning

You may well ask “What is the difference between purpose and meaning?”  Purpose is the things that you plan to do each day or with the rest of your life.  Purpose should be something you enjoy doing and are good at.  You get up in the morning with a purpose.  Meaning concerns the usefulness or strength of feeling that you have for your purpose.  Meaning comes from making a difference in the world or trying to make a difference.  Meaning comes from helping others or giving back to the world.  Meaning provides the world with beauty and grace.  Purpose without meaning is boring.

I like to think that my purpose now is writing.  I believe that I write well, and I enjoy writing very much.  The meaning of my writing comes from the sense that I hope my writing will help others find peace and joy in their lives.  I often receive comments attesting to the fact that others are helped by my writing.  This keeps inspiring me and helping me to continue.

“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”  ― Anaïs Nin,

courage

  1. Courage

If you are growing old, there are no doubt days when you wish you could just leave this world.  We all have days of depression, misery and pain.  Suicide is highest among the elderly.  Who among us has not thought of suicide as a viable option to growing old?  Thus, the saying that “Aging is not for the faint of heart.”

I have written about my good friend Brian who committed suicide about four years ago.  He was 68 at the time.  There are many things that could be said about why he chose this path, but they all seem irrelevant now.  I miss him and so do many other people.  Brian was one of the most positive people you could ever meet.  Nevertheless, the prospect of growing old in a nursing home dictated his actions.

Why, you might ask should we have courage when we are going to lose the battle anyway?  I guess it all comes down to how you want to face the foe.  Do you want to go to your death on your knees or with dignity and grit?  I prefer the route of true grit.  I try to keep in mind the famous quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “Cowards die many times before their death, the valiant only die once.”

Perhaps a better reason for courage are the people that love you and care about you.  Would they choose that you leave the world earlier or later?  What difference can you make to them by choosing courage and the will to live?

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”  ― Lao Tzu

humor

  1. Humor

Did you have any fun today?  Did you see any humor is some recent news or event where others only see doom and gloom?  It is very easy to get all wrapped up in the misery and disasters that plague our daily news.  We live in a society that seldom seems to present us with much humor.  But what would any life be without some humor.

Each day when I get together with our local library group, we have some fun by laughing at some of the stupidity that surrounds us.  A social group that can laugh at the world is helpful to my sanity.  One of the guys is always good for laughs since he has a “fun meter” that he uses to gauge our group conversations.  It goes from blue to red.  When he is enjoying or having fun in a discussion, he moves his fun meter to red.  When conversations turns bleak or sometimes idiotic, he moves his meter to blue.  Not only is his meter a good source of laughs but he is always good for laughs with some of his other antics.

Can you find one thing each day to laugh about?  Do you build some fun into your life?  If your answer is no to either of these questions, you really need to start today to have some fun.

“And the sun and the moon sometimes argue over who will tuck me in at night.  If you think I am having more fun than anyone on this planet, you are absolutely correct.”   ― Hafiz

Finding-Joy

  1. Finding joy in your life

Sounds like the same as finding humor but it is not.  Finding joy in your life means to find things each day that you enjoy doing or just simply being.  For many people, it means finding ways to help others.  It is related to finding a purpose or meaning in life since it is hard to find joy without finding a purpose that makes you happy.

However, finding joy can mean simply enjoying a rainy day.  It can mean enjoying a good book or sitting on a beach and watching the tide roll in.  I can find joy in doing nothing, but it takes reflection to find joy.  You must think about what you are doing.  At some point, I say “Wow, I will really enjoy doing this or maybe today I will enjoy doing nothing.”  I don’t need a widget or gadget to make my life.  I am responsible for my own joy and happiness.  It is a thought that makes one miserable or happy and you can find joy in life when you choose joyful thoughts.

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”  ― Thich Nhat Hanh

grateful

  1. Gratitude

St. Ignatius believed ingratitude to be “The cause, beginning, and origin of all evils and sins.”  Ingratitude makes us look at things that others have and want them.  Ingratitude makes us unhappy and miserable with our own lives.  Growing old, it is always easy to look at what others have and find a deficit in our lives.  Friends may have more money, bigger homes, better retirement living, more vacations, nicer cars, better physical condition and even “better” grandchildren.

No matter what the world brings, you can always find something or someone who is better, smarter and probably happier than you are.  It is not observing these things which will bring you unhappiness.  It is forgetting to see the good things in your own life.  No matter how bad life is or the cards we are dealt, there is always something that we can find to be grateful for.  I love flowers and every day; I look at the flowers that my wife has planted, and I am grateful for her taking the time and effort to try to make our home beautiful.  I can easily find people with nicer gardens, more flowers, less weeds, better displays but forgetting to appreciate what I have makes for an unhappy existence.

At the end of each day, see if you can find one thing to be grateful for.  If you start thinking about such a list, you will undoubtedly find several things to be grateful for.

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”   ― Epicurus

Part 2 – To Be Continued.

I will share my 6 through 10 attitudes for graceful aging in the next blog I post.

Four Remarkable People on a Quest

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Part 1 – The Meeting

Once upon a time, there were four remarkable men.  Well, actually there were two remarkable men and two remarkable women.  A confluence of circumstances brought them together in perhaps one of the strangest coincidences in history.

Jamal was from the north.  He was one of the highest scorers to ever take the Mensa Genius Examination.  When he was only four years old, he developed a program to block credit card companies from calling his parents on their cell phones.  When he was seven years old, he developed a new form of cryptocurrency which was impossible to hack, easily transferred, had high usability and presented a respectable means of acquisition.  The currency was so popular that Jamal became a billionaire when he was 15 years old.

Isabella was from the south.  She graduated when she was 12 years old from the University of São Paulo with a Ph.D. degree in Physics and Philosophy.  She burned through required credits like a hot knife going through butter.  She had no problem paying for her tuition since she was hired by the University of São Paulo physics department to help with a particle research project they were undertaking, while she was earning her degree.  When she graduated, half of the physics departments in the world tried to hire her.

Li Na was from the east.  She was born in Chengdu, a sub-provincial city which serves as the capital of China’s Sichuan province.  She was the only child of an older couple who really wanted a boy.  Li Na learned to play soccer, baseball, table tennis and hockey at a young age.  She wanted to please her parents.  She was an excellent athlete who competed in all four sports in the Olympics.  However, her athletic abilities were far overshadowed by her intellect.  Li Na had mathematical abilities that rivaled any mathematician in history.  She could take any number and give you the square root of the number down to 1000 roots without a calculator or even an abacus.

When Li Na was fourteen years old, she decided to tackle all six of the remaining Millennium Prize Problems set by the Clay Mathematics Institute in 2000.  Li Na was able to solve all six of them within a month, but she decided it would be unfair to accept the prize money as the solutions were so easy.  She therefore rejected the prize and kept the solutions to herself.  Corporations all over the world engaged her with solving problems that defied normal mathematical solutions.  She gave her money back to her parents to help support them and to put into savings.  No one knew what she was worth, but it was assumed that she was a mega millionaire.

Elijah was from the west. He was born in California in a commune that practiced a form of communal marriage.  Elijah was never sure of who his father was, and he seemed to grow up with several mothers.  At an early age, Elijah showed a talent for music.  When he was three years old, he taught himself to play a violin.  At four, he learned to play an oboe and at five, he learned to play a harp.  When he was six, he took first place in the Menuhin Competition beating out every other contestant regardless of age.

As remarkable as his talent for playing music was, Elijah’s skills and abilities in the area of composing music were even more incredible.  He had written six operas, twenty movie scores and five symphonies before he was 16 years old.  Orchestras all over the world were playing his compositions when most people did not even know his name.  Elijah hated publicity and avoided any of the usual celebrity events.  He donated most of his money to help other aspiring musicians.  He was well known among musicians and performers for his humility and kindness towards others.

cafe-wrenEach of our four remarkable people were into their middle years when by chance they met at a small cafe and restaurant in a town called Luck in Northwestern Wisconsin.  Luck is a small town of about 1200 residents, which in its heydays was the home of the Duncan Yo-yo.  In fact, it was once known as the Yo-yo Capital of the world.  Sadly, Yo-yo’s had declined in popularity and so had the fortunes of Luck in terms of prosperity and jobs.  Now perhaps, the high spot of Luck was the Wren Cafe.  A place that had excellent food, good beer and a unique ambiance imbued by its extremely creative owner Stephanie Lundeen.

The café is well known to locals and to many of the cabin people who come up on the weekends to enjoy their sojourns from the “big city” of Minneapolis.  Li Na, Elijah, Isabella and Jamal were each brought there by friends who were locals and who knew that the Wren was a very good place to eat.  The Wren being a small place and small towns being where everyone knows everyone, introductions were soon flying like falling Wisconsin snow.  Our four remarkable people sensed that a new chapter in their lives was about to begin.

Thus, at 12 PM on a cool summer day in Luck Wisconsin, Li Na, Elijah, Isabella and Jamal experienced a nuclear fusion of intimacy.  The result was like a billion tons of dynamite going off at once or the largest fireworks display in the world.  The talent that each had was like a magnet that created an instant bond between the four.  Finding other people of comparable abilities and demeanor was something that they had only dreamed about.  They all found the rapport and affinity they had for each other to be amazing.

After an hour or so of rapid conversation intermixed with more general discussion with others in their parties, our four remarkable people decided to meet again when they could have more time to discuss their lives without anyone else present.  Unbeknownst to their friends and families, Li Na, Jamal, Elijah and Isabella all had serious inner doubts that they had never been able to share with another living soul.  Each believed that they had found some kindred souls with whom they could share their secrets and perhaps find some piece of mind.  They agreed to meet again at the Wren the following week.  It was a week they knew they must spare from their busy lives.

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Part 2 – Four Doubts

For several years now, Jamal had begun to feel that there was no meaning to his life.  He had even contemplated suicide because he felt that he had nothing left to live for. The world did not seem to have people that cared about anything but their new smart phones or how fast their Internet speeds were.  Life was one vast merry go round with people constantly jumping on and off and reacting to whatever the current fads and trends were.  Nobody cared about anything but how much money they had and how many things they could buy.  Jamal desired to know if there was a true Purpose in Life or if life was simply meaningless.

Elijah had many of the same feelings as Jamal.  Elijah no longer found value in anything in life.  Everything he had ever owned or purchased soon became worthless in his mind.  The best yachts, cars and homes that anyone could buy could not make him happy.  Fame and talent and beauty all seemed to fade over time.  People were fickle.  One minute they loved you and the next minute they loved somebody else.  Elijah knew what it was like to be famous and admired but it had lost any value to him.  He thought that being known as the greatest musician in the world would satisfy his inner longings.  Even though he had obtained this goal, it did not seem to provide the value that he had hoped for.  Elijah longed to know if there was any true Value in Life or if everything was really worthless.

Isabella had once believed that there was a hidden truth to life that remained to be found.  She had studied physics and philosophy thinking that they would lead her to this truth.  She had spent many years searching for this truth.  However, every time she found a truth, she soon realized that it was also a lie.  The prophets and great religious leaders had always taught that “The truth will set you free.”  Isabella could never find the talisman that would set her free.

She desperately wanted to believe that there was some truth to existence and that life was more than just a series of lies and deceptions.  She had a desire to find this truth, but she had become increasingly discouraged.  Each day she read the news and only found “Fake Facts” and deceptions masquerading as truth.  The world seemed to have misinformation and disinformation but no truth.  Isabella wanted to find the Truth of Life.

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Li Na was another tormented soul.  A brilliant mathematician, she could not discover a single constant in life.  Every time she thought she had found a concept in mathematics that would provide such a constant, Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem would rear its ugly head proving still again that it is impossible to find a complete and consistent set of axioms for mathematics.  If mathematics had no constants, how could life have any constants.  Was is simply true that death and taxes were the only constants in life?  Li Na wanted to believe that there was more to life than simply death and taxes.  Li Na desired to find the one Constant in Life that would really make life worth living.  If she could find this constant, she believed that it would put her soul at rest and she might find true peace on earth.

Part 3 – The Doubts Unfold

To Be Continued:  I will publish the next part of this story when it is finished.  I appreciate your patience. 

Time for Questions:

What do you think so far?  How do you like the four people in the story?  Have you ever shared similar doubts?  What did you do about them?  What do you believe about life?

Life is just beginning. 

“Doubt as sin. — Christianity has done its utmost to close the circle and declared even doubt to be sin. One is supposed to be cast into belief without reason, by a miracle, and from then on to swim in it as in the brightest and least ambiguous of elements: even a glance towards land, even the thought that one perhaps exists for something else as well as swimming, even the slightest impulse of our amphibious nature — is sin! And notice that all this means that the foundation of belief and all reflection on its origin is likewise excluded as sinful. What is wanted are blindness and intoxication and an eternal song over the waves in which reason has drowned.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality

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