A good and special friend, celebrating his 80th birthday at a family dinner, loudly asked me across the table what it was like “being an octogenarian.” I was not expecting his question and replied tersely, “I am grateful every day.” He was disappointed that I did not say more and, in retrospect, I was as well. He “dropped the hat” and I failed to pick it up.
Since then I have given the experience of aging much thought, realizing that even my terse response at the time was right on target. I am truly grateful every day for being here. Aging, I learned a while back, is not a walk in the park; it needs to be worked at and requires a positive attitude that does not get smothered by the aches and pains of one’s failing infrastructure. Eyesight, hearing, joints and muscles, heart and mind lose something of themselves – sometimes subtle but all tangible evidence of a journey’s turning. Still, I remain grateful.
The attitude I am talking about can be summarized by my belief that when one who is able can embrace the process, make friends with it and commit to making the most of what is left, most days can be adventurous.
I can list at least three essential elements for making the most of this gift of time: first, a passion for life itself; second, active involvement with a social network, especially family and friends; and third, a purpose for every day.
Passion is energy; life requires it. Merely “doing time” in one’s later years is never good for either the heart or the mind. Passion can be as simple as curiosity, wondering what comes next or an all – consuming feeling of being unfinished, like Ulysses in Tennyson’s poem. Passion is the adrenaline of longevity.
Involvement with others feeds one’s spirit and provides opportunities to share the lessons of lifelong experience. Personal contact nourishes the possibilities of what remains; alone too easily becomes loneliness.
Having a purpose for every day can work like a psychological pacemaker. Agers can do more than wish or dream. The changing world offers challenges waiting to be tried on, tested, and met. Passing on one’s legacy to children and grandchildren can be cause enough to meet the coming days.
Of course one’s health is crucial to aging well. One’s body needs to be looked after. Undoubtedly the most important factor is one’s mind, which provides the energy to remain curious, active, and involved. A vital mind provides the ability to look ahead while finding the strength in the moment to get there.
In short, aging, at least for this octogenarian is, literally, a heady experience.