Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Growing older

I will reach my "full retirement age" soon. Social Security reminds me of this and then lets me know how much money I will leave on the table if I don't wait a few more years to tap into my benefits. I wonder if they know something I don't know.  I have read a couple good books on aging this year.  Aging Matters is a good one I wish I had read a few years earlier. R. Paul Stevens is the author and he  is positive that we, who are older, have a calling for the rest of our lives. Just recently, a friend about my age wondered if I ever felt dissed by people because of my age. Stevens says that's part of aging, too because aging is a problem in our modern age. Elders are honored in the East but in the West the aged are considered obsolete. Unless you are running for Congress or President.  John McCain is 80 and still admits to a soft spot in his heart for Brittany Spears. Trump gets under Hillary's skin when he questions her health or stamina. Hey, it's ok to have some health issues you've put a lot of miles on that body. I have aches all over and when I did a header off my mountain bike a few weeks ago I took some ibuprofen and I marveled at how much better my body felt - even my teeth felt better. Ian Brown, the Canadian journalist, has a pretty funny book out called Sixty. It's a diary of his 61st year. It's pretty graphic about things we older folks like to keep quiet about but he might be more worried than most of us about how he compares with other people his age. I mean you can still look pretty good in your sixties. I hear comments about how good my legs look when I visit my mom in her memory unit from some of the women in their nineties, who as I said, are on a memory unit.

From the reading I've done, it seems like some people approach aging purely as a physical process - how can they eat, exercise, stay busy, make their money last, enjoy life, as long as they can. Others like Brown are more focused on what they are losing. Stevens deals more with the spiritual side of aging. True, he says, we are transitioning from doing to being. But, that's a good thing. There is more time for prayer, study, reflection, spiritual growth and people who are important in your life. Perhaps, as you get older you don't have to work for pay as much so there is more time for volunteering where you like, or ministry, or being with people older than you are, or younger like grand kids.

Our culture tries to tell us to cram as much as we can in our later years. Get that place or RV you always wanted. Make out your bucket list and start working on that. Some older people find time is heavy on their hands, others seek to make the most of the more time they feel like they have. Aging can be a time to experience"our days" as the gift they are.

Aging has hazards too as Stevens not so gently reminds us. There are special temptations that afflict us as we grow older. They are not new temptations but they affect us in our older years differently. Pride can make us too talkative and we may be losing some of our  filters. Envy is well illustrated by Ian Brown's book when he canvasses the well known who are his age. "Oprah is richer than God...and I am not. It's a slap in the face to think of how hugely influential she is... ok but she is as close to the end as I am...yeah, baby! Christie Brinkley is looking pretty good still but she is getting on just like me."

Many aging people have stored up a brooding anger, Stevens says, making us use our energy to do more harm than help. Of course, there is the picture of the elderly by the seaside resort or playing golf all day or amusing themselves to death with one pleasure after another or just vegging in front of the tv. Unorganized sloth is what Stevens calls it. It's not a time management problem but a soul problem; John Cassian the monk wrote that the old can pass their old age in lukewarmness and in sloth and so obtain authority not from the ripeness of their character but from the number of their years.

Greed infects us as we think about all we might have done, or accomplished or how much time we have left to do it. With more time and maybe more money gluttony beckons us to upgrade our consuming. Last is lust which we know is not a problem for the elderly, right, (there are even meds for that). Someone said old men get married; old women get lonely. Truth is we are sexual beings all our lives. In older age intimacy and affection have an opportunity to grow. It may also be true that "the lights are on but the voltage is low" but love is made in many ways.

Stevens quotes a prayer from an anonymous abbess who knew she was aging. "Lord, keep me from becoming too talkative and thinking I must have something to say on every topic...Keep me from the thought that out of my immense treasures of experience and wisdom I must use it to benefit others.... in the end I may need a few friends.... Keep me from the endless recital of details....grant me patience to listen to the complaints of others but keep my lips shut about my own aches and pains....when my own memory does not agree with others teach me humility and make me less self assured...keep me gentle... not as a saint it's too hard to live with some of them but a harsh old person in the devil's masterpiece...make me sympathetic and not sentimental, helpful and not bossy, help me find merits where I had not expected, talents in people in whom I thought possessed none. And, Lord, the grace to tell them so. Amen

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