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The Courage to Grow Old

If we live long enough, there will be loss. You can count on it. At the least, muscles will weaken, we will tire more quickly, and memory may become an issue.

amba at ambivablog recently reminded me of this:

“You know anyone who doesn't [live with limitations]? For starters, that's all of us who are simply growing older and learning to live with sore knees and backs, dimming or blurring eyesight, fogged-in memory, and more. (One of the ways I knew I was middle-aged was when I stopped seeing the very old person creeping along in front of me in the supermarket as a maddening obstacle and started seeing him or her as a hero.)”

Barring accident or disease, these debilities sneak up on us gradually. One day, you wait for the next one rather than run for the bus. Another day, you think better of buying a half gallon of cider because your other purchases already weigh too much to carry easily. And when tearing through all the weekly housecleaning on Saturday morning comes to require a nap afterwards, you devise a schedule to spread it out over seven days. Dr. William Thomas speaks of this slowing down in his book What are Old People For?:

“Old age may be a time of loss and decline, but it is not only that. There is a countervailing and equally significant increase in the power of adaptation. The development of this capability is one of the most important and least acknowledged virtues of aging…

“While it is true that muscles weaken in late life, it is also true that older people are less likely to report symptoms of depression than younger people. Hair may turn white, get thin, and fall out, but when surveyed, older people often report an enhanced sense of well-being…

“These seeming paradoxes are actually the fruits of adaptation. It grows in tandem with and is nourished by the decline in physiological function.”

Adaptation, and also courage - the quiet kind that elders go about every day without acknowledgement from the culture or even, Dr. Thomas notwithstanding, the medical community. There are no medals, no cheers for navigating around the shoals of declining capability, but there ought to be because as the actor Bette Davis noted wisely, “Old age ain’t for sissies.”

amba links to a remarkable blog post by Anne Streiber who has been adapting to the residual effects of a ruptured brain aneurysm she suffered in 2004. Take her wish for everyone and hold it near as you make the adaptations required for living a rich and successful old age:

“Now I know that fearlessness is something we all need, because living even an ordinary life takes courage.

“May you all be brave in the face of your particular adversity, whatever it is.”

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Comments

Thank you for this post. Just one of the reasons for my battle with depression.

Like this post Ronni. The hardest thing for most of us is making those adjustments. It's a learning process to be sure...and yes, a courageous one.

A 4.5-star posting, Ronnie. Thanks!

The Finns have a word for this: SISU - which is difficult to translate into English - but it means 'courage and resiliency in the face of adversity' - no matter what the adversity is - whether it be spreading homekeeping over days rather than hours or a major disaster. Cheers and thank you for the gret post, Ronni!

I am so blessed to have good health and still work and enjoy most of my life. I do have sore knees and a back I need to baby along. I think that my attitude plays a large part in health and the ability to maintain flexibility and stamina as I age. Knock wood, it will stay that way for a while, at least.

Thank you from me too, Ronni. That little phrase 'power of adaptation' is so positive and inspiring I plan to go out now and share it with all my friends. We can all apply it to our situation - whatever the stage of our inability or decline.

The words here ring true for all of us. For some they are even more meaningful. I just wish more people for whom they have such special significance would have the opportunity to read or hear them.

I believe without question the trait of courage and the development of skills to adapt to life's circumstances are most vital to our experiencing a personally meaningful existence. Greater effort to adapt is required for some and in some situations than others. The more I age, the more aware I become of the need for conscious effort to adapt.

I wish we could all try to be a little more patient, accepting, understanding of others. We may have only brief contact, or encounters at a distance, with some who may have unseen limitations. We may never know their personal story unlike the one so well described for us by Anne Streiber.

Thanks for the link and another interesting blog to explore.

Part of life is adjusting to changing circumstances and besides no one ever promised us a rose garden! We adapt and live life to the fullest extent possible. It's the life in us (no matter what our age) that counts !

Every day has been a challenge for me for 27 years now. My doctors call me their miracle. Aging has increased the challenge but I have never given up and I doubt I ever will. It's just not in my psychic realm. I'm a survivor. As are we all one way or another. George Bernard Shaw said: "I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations." This pretty much says what I believe. Life, for all its problems, is to be lived and savored and I, for one, will not "go gentle into that good night."

Growing older is a challenge and your post certainly corroborated this. On the other hand, when I'm not obsessing about what if I get sicker and will I have the courage to die a hard death, I am so darned grateful that I have such a different perspective on life than I did until I was about 50. As for your quiz, I look forward to seeing your post about this.

I'm not sure if it's adaptation. Maybe it's just that your choices are more limited with declining faculty, so you don't feel as bad about what you AREN'T doing because society expects less of you when you're older. Any accomplishment is a miracle.

Society should expect more of older people. With all of that experience and wisdom, they should be model citizens. Unfortunately, they're often just senior citizens.

In our community, the over-60-year-old women (I'm 62)have the power; the men have retreated to their lairs, the younger women are focused on families and/or careers, and the older crowd is, for the most part, either centered on individual interests or are just plain tuckered out. The result is a network stronger and more courageous (who gives a damn about criticism or threats at this age?)than I've ever experienced. It's a real rush -- and one that comes with the knowledge that every day is a gift.

Fuck all the old fogues in this world. all they do is anything slow, boring or talk about the good old days. Live for today you misrable old shits!!!

check out the above post....fool now.....fool in the future.

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