Updated: May 11, 2021
For my inaugural blog, let’s consider the topic of goals and activities. When I recently turned eighty, my daughter asked me where I wanted to be in ten years. “Alive,” I responded, without really thinking about it. Alive is a great response, I proudly thought to myself, wondering if there’s more I should aspire to. The Bee Gees song “Staying Alive’ says “You know it's alright, it's okay I'll live to see another day,” is a worthy goal and for some their necessary singular focus.
However, for those of us sound in body and mind, or something approaching that, setting attainable and worthy goals give us a meaningful purpose and they may soon become our passion, if only for a season or two.
Two years ago, for example, I read about the upcoming Polk County Senior Games with forty-three events ranging from Bridge and Chess to Fishing, Shooting, and Running. Fancying myself a decent sprinter, at least I had been in High School, I mailed in my ten-dollar fee and boldly entered the fifty and one-hundred-meter events.
That same day, I donned running shoes, shorts, and hit the street figuring a little training would augment my considerable natural abilities. First a groin pull forced a week layoff from racing around the neighborhood, then a painful thigh muscle kept me inside for another ten days. From there it got worse, the other groin and other thigh became too painful to train, but time was on my side. The games were months away. Plenty of time to heal up, get stronger in the process, and train to win.
Five months later with minimal time spent walking or jogging, much less all-out-sprinting, I found myself lined up with five old guys looking down that long track waiting for the starter’s gun to fire. When I heard the shot and contracted my muscles for the big push off, I realized I was already looking at a lot of rear ends, but trusted in my superior speed to easily catch and overtake them. You can guess how it ended―dead last in two events. The point is that for a year, I trained, pulled things, recovered, and continued training, but in the end I did it all wrong.
When you’re seventy-nine, you can’t train like you’re sixteen. Stepping back a bit and viewing this with a different perspective, I did achieve something of which I am proud. Beside getting the T-Shirt which pridefully announces my participation, for a year, I was passionate about training.
I squeezed in short walks whenever possible, stretched my muscles even before getting out of bed, and started doing pushups, lifting light weights, and wearing a Fitbit. It was game on, all hands-on deck, and I loved it. I had a purpose and I pursued it with dogged determination and passion.
The Senior Games for 2021 was COVID-cancelled, so I won’t have to compete with those speed demon seventy-five-to-seventy-nine-year-old guys again. 2022 is my year! I’ll be racing against the really old guys in the eighty-to-eighty-four-year age bracket. Piece of cake. Since I came in first in a four-school three-hundred-yard dash in 1957, I’ll enter that event also. What have I got to lose?
This time I’ll begin walking around the neighborhood, mixing in a jog here and there with the ultimate goal of actually hitting my amazing speed. I say that tongue in cheek because I know I’m slow as molasses, can’t jump anymore, and I injure myself all too often. Slow and easy is the answer while managing expectations to match reality.
For some of us, such things as stretching and running, even taking short walks, are not possible. Fortunately, there are exciting and challenging pursuits besides the physical. For ten years, before the internet, I chased my genealogy by traveling to England, Wales, and Germany. Everything I found on the ground I can now find on the Internet in a fraction of the time and at no cost. And every year more data is categorized and indexed making genealogy so much easier and rewarding.
I spent days in the National Achieves, Daughters of the American Revolution Museum, and the Library of Congress hunting for tidbits while today’s researchers get a full course meal with a few clicks. I’ve been able to trace the ancestry of my mother’s father back to 1390 with little effort. Common names like Smith and names easily misspelled make it more difficult but not impossible with perseverance. When the genealogy bug gets ahold of you, you’ll fly out of bed in the morning and reluctantly set it all aside in the evening.
Some say that “Many of us have a book inside waiting to get out,” and I believe it. Using the writing skills I was compelled to learn over my twenty-four years working in the Pentagon for the Department of Defense, I created my first twenty-page booklet after my wife traveled to Germany to help with our daughter’s first born. I kept the emails we exchanged and eventually put them together to tell that story. I added a few pictures, a cover, and had FEDEX print it and bind it with a wire coil.
Beside a great memento, booklets quickly became my way to memorialize people and events and now thirty-one of them adorn (or clutter) my office. I created booklets for important things such as my parents and my genealogy, a few Sunday School lessons I taught, trips I’ve taken with my children, and a listing of the books I’ve read, to name a few.
Creating booklets requires a computer, a passion to memorialize something of importance, time, pillows to sit on, and a few bucks for printing. Cleaning out clutter is an added benefit of booklet-making. Once the information is contained in the booklet, lots of stray little pieces of paper can be thrown away. Halleluiah for getting rid of stuff!
For two seasons, hunting consumed me. Florida is blessed with an abundant number of fishing holes and swampy hunting areas. Those past sixty-five are not required to purchase a hunting license or attend classes. How sweet is that! Having done some shooting and hunting as a kid with a 22. cal., I decided I needed to hunt wild hogs and help Florida rid itself of these pests, plus there's something super manly about saying, "I'm going hog hunting."
Having shot the M1 Garand, 30-06 cal., rifle in Army basic training sixty-one years ago, I decided the M1 would be my rifle of choice and got one through the Civilian Marksmanship Program. The local outdoor shooting range provided a surprising wakeup call. It was painful to shoot that beast of a rifle and I shot terribly. Apparently, young men have a deep layer of muscle and fat in their shoulder to absorb the recoil that seniors lack.
I was black and blue and flinching from the pain every time I pulled the trigger, hitting everything but the target. It’s another challenge older folk face, but looking around, massaging my sore shoulder, I noticed that the old guys all had a recoil pad strapped onto their shoulder. Shortly after Amazon delivered my new shoulder pad, I was back at the range and it was 1960 all over again. I was hitting paper targets and loving it.
Hunting with it, though, presented another problem. After hauling that nine-and-a-half-pound rifle around all day in the field, I quickly decided I needed something lighter-much lighter. My arms got tired and my aging body began to tire more quickly, demanding to sit down in an air-conditioned room with Netflix rather than crashing through dense saw palmetto and swampy, snakey lowlands.
The Winchester 1894 lever action 30-30 solved the problem and I became a staple at the fifty-thousand-acre Green Swamp Wildlife Management Area. I also found out shooting targets was just as much fun using a break-barrel air rifle. The rifle is inexpensive and the .177 cal., pellets are a whole lot cheaper than those shiny-brass cartridges. To my great surprise, I found it takes thirty pounds to ‘break’ the barrel to load the pellet. Fortunately, there is a technique to make it easy--but it still takes thirty pounds of downward pressure.
Before I leave this topic, I should mention that I never shot a hog. I saw two but they were running so fast I couldn’t even get the rifle up to my shoulder much less sight in those speedy critters.
Ever since I retired-retired at age sixty-five, I became keenly aware that I 'd been carry unwanted baggage around for years. It was only as I continued aging that unpleasant memories and regrets I racked up over the years began to make themselves heard and were threatening to become the dominant voice in my head.
Making choices is a wonderful freedom we enjoy from cradle to grave, but it comes with risks. We make good choices and bad choices that all have consequences ranging from mild to severe. Some of our choices bring us great joy while others bring us a lifetime of regret which can play out physically or mentally, and both are bummers. Can I get an amen?
We may have no choice but to live with the physical consequences, but we can address the mental, particularly if they are troubling. They can depress us, lower our self-esteem, and affect our relationships. If they seriously affect our quality of life, we need to seek professional help.
Regrets need to be corralled, securely bound, and stuffed deep down into a reinforced backpack. I say backpack because despite our best efforts, we can't forget our regrets and for some strange reason can't tolerate being separated from the regretted memories for too long before bringing them back up. When they do come to mind, we can coax them to quickly return to the backpack. We enjoy and cherish our good memories and need to keep the bad ones as quiet as possible.
The last item to discuss is our take on religion and our spiritual beliefs. A quick review of the literature suggest that this aspect of our lives is important and too often neglected. Sally Quinn in a January 24, 2014 Washington Post article said, “It turns out that people who have religious or spiritual beliefs are happier than those who don’t, no matter what their beliefs.” She goes on to note that, “Religious beliefs give people a sense of meaning.”
Eric W. Dalen in an August 30, 2018 article in Social Phychology pointed out that, “…religion can be one way that individuals cope with a reduced sense of purpose in life….” There are literally hundreds of studies that suggest our spiritual life plays an important part in how we feel as we age.
We are like a three-legged stool: physical, mental, and spiritual. If we neglect one, the stool gets wobbly. For maximum support, all three legs need to be in play at the same time with all the determination and energy we can muster. We can read spiritually related books, listen to the radio, and watch services on TV. It’s never too late to connect with our spiritual side and it may make a great deal of difference how we view the meaning of our lives.
I’ve written about several topics in this blog all centered around our common journey of aging. We will continue to age whatever we do. That’s a given. Tomorrow will come whether or not we select a goal today in the physical, mental, or spiritual arena to enhance the quality of our lives. I’ve opted to choose a life of purpose and passion, and I hope I’ve encouraged some to follow suit if you’re able and willing.
I am very interested in what you have to say about what I’ve written or how you are addressing aging in your life. We’re all different in so many respects, but we do share this common journey. Let’s talk about it and share experiences. I’ve started the conversation. Please add to it so we can all benefit. Thank you.