Current Events XVIII
Christian Sec. Fraud
Bridge School I
Bridge School II
Dr. Ralph Stanley I
Dr. Ralph Stanley II
Successful Aging I
Successful Aging II
Clear Thinking I
Clear Thinking II
Death Penalty 2010
Death Penalty II
Knowledge Create I
Kn. Creation II
Kn. Creation III
Doctor and Diva I
Doctor and Diva II
Doctor and Diva III
Doctor and Diva IV
Colton H. Bryant I
Colton Bryant II
'61 Rose Bowl Hoax
The King's Speech
Lk 17:11-19 (2011)
Caravaggio in 2011
A Trip to Maui
Advice to Young Folk
On Successful Aging I
Bill Long 10/28/10
On Mastery, Submission, Learning and Living
Thesis: Successful aging requires the skillful negotiation of a number of potential pitfalls common to all people.
Objection: Some might say, however, that the thought of being "successful" as we age is a phantasm, as chimerical as fire-breathing dragons or 20th century unicorns. Their argument is that life after 50 (or 40 or 60) is all a process of gradual devolution, as one bodily and mental system after another gradually or suddenly decays, and we are left with little joy, energy or memory. Indeed, the biblical author of Ecclesiastes might be among the first of those expressing this philosophy, when he said, in a highly developed series of metaphors:
"Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, 'I have no pleasure in them'; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain; in the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly....when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself aong and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home," Eccl. 12:1-5.
Response: There is, however, an equally strong and persuasive philosophy of life out there that says that you get better with age, that limitations are the stuff of life anyway, and that within the limitations come new discoveries of amazing capacities, wisdom and creativity that you had hitherto not discovered. For example, this webpage talks about 53 ways that life is better as you age. If the author had only gotten to 57, one of them might have been to enjoy ketchup more fully...
My Approach--Life's Five Domains
Though I generally tend to sympathize with the latter philosophy, I think it is harmful just to proclaim the 53 ways things are better without first exploring two things: (1) what I call the five domains of life, and (2) the need to fight to get to a position so that life can be pleasurable as you age. Thus, the thesis of this and the next essay is that aging can be a time of flourishing, but you have to fight like hell to get to the position where it can become so. It doesn't just "happen" and it isn't a matter of a few gentle choices. It requires all of one's insight, planning, care and smarts to get to a position where life and age, indeed, can work for you.
Let's begin, then, by examining what I call the five domains of life. These are major life responsibilities or areas, areas that all people have to deal with and which tether us to the earth and each other. They are health, finances, work, pleasure (non-compensation activities), and relationships. You may divide the domains of life a little differently. Indeed, many of them overlap each other, but they are distinct enough to merit separate consideration. We take each in turn, examining the pitfalls as well as the pleasures.
I. Health. One reality of aging is that you can't take health for granted. More time is needed each day to deal with failing or weakening bodily systems before the day begins. There are stretches to do, pills to take, skin and other things to care for, glasses to clean, hearing aids to adjust, insurance companies to deal with, and a host of other body-related issues. Aches and pains turn into persistent troubles. More care and attention needs to be devoted to nutrition, food supplements, and other things that seemingly didn't occupy our "radar screen" as younger people. In addition, many people of good health are caregivers for loved ones whose health is declining. Health-related concerns take up a lot of time and can contribute to the joy, or agony, of living.
II. Finances. It costs money to live. Even Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber from the mid-1990s who lived a reclusive existence in an unheated Montana forest cabin for years, complained that his cost of living rose from about $400 to $800 annually in the few years before his arrest. Well, most people today would be hard-pressed to live for less than $40,000 a year. Families, of course, require lots more money and individuals who want to live slightly above minimum level can easily require $75,000 - $100,000 a year to live. Unexpected hits, whether through health care emergencies, investment losses, family needs, or other major expenses can often drain the treasury and lead to the most precarious of existences. We all need to think about money...
III. Work. Some people don't have to work to pay the bills, but most have had to do so at one time in their lives. At times work can not only be remunerative but also meaningful, but most people, if given the chance and resources, would probably give up what they are doing for pay now and choose to spend their lives a little differently. It is rare that a lottery winner goes back to the assembly line or the office the next day or week or month.
IV. Free Time/Pleasure Time. A generation ago people had hobbies. They would collect stamps, coins, or any number of things. A friend of mine used to spend hours painting toy soldiers, a welcome relief from the pressure-cooking environment of his executive responsibilities. Now we seem not so much to be hobbyists as to want other kinds of pleasures in our spare time. Sports take up most of it, either through kids participation, our viewing or our hanging out with people who like sports. Indeed, I could only count one day in the past several months (Tuesday, October 5), where there wasn't an evening filled with live professional or college sports. As I think about it, I am beginning to think that the concept of "free" or "pleasure" time is almost non-existent for many Americans in 2010.
Just last night I was watching a good-hearted but not-well-done movie on the Nangchen Sisters (Nuns) of Tibet--a group of hearty and dedicated Buddhist Nuns who escaped the perils of the Cultural Revolution in China by retreating far into the mountains and, more recently, rebuilding their nunneries or monasteries. A handful of Western (American) women were visiting these nuns, trying to capture the spirit and practice of the woman as a way of stabilizing their own lives. One of the American women interviewed described her Western life as full of constant activity so that there literally was no time to sit down and think. I think her experience captures that of many in the West in 2010.
V. Relationships. Wow. What a category. I guess you could further divide this into four or five sub-categories: relationship with intimate partner/s; relationship with family; relationship with friends; connection with groups or organizations; connection with the "world." I guess I would also put one's own mental health in this category--relationship with the self. The dance of relationships is so varied and many-faceted that you probably can't say that you ever have it "mastered"--the most that can be said is that you have some good friends, an understanding intimate partner, and that you have enough connections with the world "out there" to give you a location and a place where you feel your voice is being heard.
Now, in the next essay, we are ready for the "punch line."