Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fight, Resign or Embrace

Photo by pedtrosimoes7.
I'm waging a war on aging. From the minute my alarm goes off at 4:50 am, I am embattled.

Part of my drive comes from the fact that my husband is years younger than I and my children are young enough to be my grand kids. I was a late-launching adult who postponed her adolescence well into my 30s.

Fighting the Good Fight

I'm eating kale, sardines and low-fat dairy.  I'm walking an hour in the morning and then going to the gym in the evening and cycling through the routine du jour: cardio, stretching or strength training.

I switched careers so that I could make healthy aging my vocation.  I spend 4 to 6 hours every day teaching classes in aging studies or writing blog posts about aging.

Photo by edwick
Know your enemy.  Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

I'm watching every film I can find about dealing with age-related challenges so that I can build a strategy on how to fend off this formidable foe.  And I'm reading less fiction about exploring imaginary worlds and more nonfiction about managing age-related assaults to my finances, body, psyche, soul and social standing.

I've been to the dermatologist to remove skin tags, the optometrist to be fitted for bifocals, the salon to cover my gray, the D.O. to realign my  lower back, and the physical therapist to manage an old war injury to my hip.  I make regular stops at Goodwill to invigorate my wardrobe with fashion that will draw attention away from my wrinkles and my sagging flesh.

Resigning Myself to the Aging Process

Photo by Portobeseno
And I'm exhausted.

Mind over matter only works for so long. The constant pain in my right hip informs me that I do have limits.

I have spent two years enraged about my injury and fierce in my efforts to overcome my limitations.  But now that all my efforts to control the pain with diet and exercise are failing me, I'm looking around for a white flag to raise.

Am I weak? Am I a quitter?  But what can I do but cry "Uncle" when Father Time has his boot on my throat. I am seeing a line between fighting the good fight and vain attempts to postpone the inevitable.  Denial isn't just a river in Egypt.

And I've noticed that the mainstream media and social media gives more attention to these messages:
  • Age is just a number. 
  • You can defeat the effects of aging.
  • You will be the statistical anomaly. 
  • Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 
But the emperor has no clothes. And I can see that he's got a pretty wrinkled and flaccid physique. But there are hordes of people insisting it's not true. If I dare speak this truth, I get shouted down with frenetic cries, "It's not true! We can fight Father Time and win!"  And for the majority of the time, I'm one of the biggest deniers. 

But in the middle of the night when no other task is distracting me from the pain in my hip, I see an invitation to stand down in my nonstop battle against aging. 

I don't like the word surrender. Or the word resignation.  Can I find a more dignified way to acquiesce? 

Be a Lover not a Fighter

My fatigue and my futility suggest that I make some concession to Father Time. In order to preserve my sanity and to better spend my waning energy, I need to another approach to facing age-related challenges:

I should spend some time making peace with the aging process.

I need to look more for the subtle joys of aging and embrace them. I need to starting ask these questions:
  • How can I redefine success beyond finishing my "To Do" list?
  • How can I pass some batons to the generation below me?
  • How can I accept my physical limitations?
  • How can I move past acceptance to actually celebrate aging?
  • How can I focus on character more than achievement?
  • How can I find value in stillness?
I am hoping to find some readings to help me with this task.  The poetry of May Sarton might help me. Someone recently suggested the poetry of septuagenarian Alicia Ostriker. I have also found inspiration from Bill Plotkin, Ram Dass and Morrie Schwartz.

Jungian archetype theory also describes the third stage of a woman's life as the crone stage. Modern society often devalues older women when there are real strengths to being fully ripe.  One current cultural icon of the crone includes Prof. McGonagal from the Harry Potter series. She's intelligent, wise, prudent, discerning. Yes, she has wrinkles, but she uses her life experience implied by those wrinkles to instruct youth and fight evil.

In addition, Zen Buddhist meditations help me understand that attachment leads to suffering, including being attached to earlier life stages and a body that has left the building several years ago.

Another good strategy for accepting  my age?  Maintaining relationships with people who are 10, 20, 30 and 40 years older than I am.

Photo by calliope_muse
When I spend time with late life adults, not only do I get a more realistic picture of my future, I get to observe how some of these people find real meaning and joy in circumstances that I am fighting so hard to avoid.

If I'm going to travel down that path, I might as well learn to relax and enjoy the journey.

I'm not quite ready to meditate on my final hours, but I did find this wonderful post by Stephen McPhee on the Over 65 Blog about surrender and late life which contains some of the same ideas about accepting my present condition as I move through midlife to the next stage. 

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19 comments:

  1. I'm all for "rage, rage against the dying of the light" but at some point, evening does fall. That's our reality at this stage of life and I agree, coming to terms with it and being at peace is key to happiness at this age. I'm watching a 72 year old friend struggle with chemo for a chronic cancer and it took her a few years to accept the limitations on her life. I hope I'm learning....

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    1. Hugs to your friend. My situation is no where near that dire, but I am growing very tired of being so aggressive in my efforts to stop the inevitable. I need a nap every day from all my anti-aging work. Love and light to your friend.

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  2. Seems to me the key is just to be the best you can be wherever that may be.

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  3. Hi Karen....I am extremely fortunate to live in a retirement area (near Palm Springs CA) where I constantly see people 20-30+ years older than me who are energetic, vibrant, engaged and interesting. They model to me what is possible no matter what our age--and as the songwriter Jimmy Buffet says, "I'd rather die while I'm living than live while I'm dead." I plan to make the most of every second I have no matter what my age!

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    1. How wonderful that you get to affiliate with so many trail blazers.

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  4. I hear what you're saying, Karen. That damn clock keeps on ticking, no matter what we do.

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    1. I feel so puny in my efforts, but I'm not quite ready to totally cave.

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  5. I really appreciate the book From Age-ing to Sage-ing. Check out Sage-ing International.

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    1. I just bought it online. Thanks for the tip!

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  6. I haven't quite given up yet, still do Botox a couple times a year and color my hair. Soon enough it'll not be enough to fool myself and I guess that's when I become resigned LOL

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    1. It's a judgment call, and I still fight it more than I face it. All my best to you.

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  7. Great post, Karen. Acceptance as acknowledgment not as surrender will allow you live your life fully and enjoyably as you decide to live it, not as others claim it can be lived. Good luck!

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  8. I guess I'm just kind of lazy. Your regimen sounds exhausting and time-consuming to me. I'm 52 and walk 30-45 minutes 4-5 times a week to maintain my health. I have accepted that my body has changed and I'm not willing to put in the work that you have done to keep it from doing so because I really do not like exercise. I had my eyes done a year and a half ago because they were seriously aging me and I haven't regretted it for one second. I color my hair and wear makeup. I have very few wrinkles (mostly due to good genes), and believe in what Catherine Deneuve once said - after 50 you have to choose between your face and your ass. I choose my face.

    I imagine having a younger husband would be a challenge to your self-image. Fortunately for me my husband is 2 years older and looks it. He loves me, tummy, butt and all.

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  9. Excellent, thought-provoking post Karen! Best author on this topic for me: Stephen Levine's Healing Into Life and Death: http://www.amazon.com/Healing-into-Death-Stephen-Levine/dp/0385262191

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    1. I am using a video in my Death & Dying class that includes interviews with Levine, but I haven't read his book yet. Thanks for the nudge.

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  10. Great suggestions all. I think when we embrace the fact that we are aging..right from the beginning, we don't get caught up in that vicious worldwind. And we find a balance of taking care of ourselves as a part of life but not as some frentic attempt to do the impossible. I love your idea of associating with older folks to see the vitality that exists there.

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    1. Yes, if I get frenetic, I just get so exhausted. Acceptance is more emotionally and physically restful. The older I get, the more I choose the path to peace because I just don't want to expend the energy it takes to get wound up over things I can't change.

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