Age Tempered Living: choosing your changes

by John Schuster on October 8, 2018

in 70th Year

On Purpose and By Accident, We Change

Our lives are tempered by our age. A baby does baby things. Kids think and act like kids. Mid-lifers have careers, raise kids or not, and do what they do. Those later on in life, like me, get to do the same. Or do we?

How is your life tempered by age? Maybe you are not letting that happen and working at not letting your life be changed by getting older? It seems a good strategy on many fronts. Still, getting older changes us and we can cooperate with it, or fight it, and it’s usually some kind of combination of the two. I am more of a fan of tempering than not giving into the changes as they come.

The phrase “age-tempered” is more useful than the sometimes used “age appropriate.” I think I know what is age appropriate for a 5 year old. Anything above 60, not so sure. There are so many age appropriate things we can be doing that are the direct opposite of each other, age appropriate is not so useful. What is good for one is not good for the other.

Here is one way to think about age-tempered living: what do you say yes or “more-of-that” to, and what no’s and “less-of-that” are you declaring– to the aging stereoptypes and images our culture feeds us.

Two big streams of stereotypes come at us: the good ones, and AARP supplies plenty of these, as our 65 plus bodies don helmets and bikes and off we go for a ride with our sweethearts in a Maui vacation sunset. The bad ones abound as well, and are worth saying no to–elderhood is losing mental capacity, hip and knee replacements, and waning energy as we dotter off to our TV’s as not fully human anymore.

So we say yes and no, do more or do less, to work, friends, TV, reading, walks, our gardens, card games,  to all our activities and habits, all the time, all day long.

What are some of my temperings? I’ll go first, but I hope you do the same for you. Make a list and take note of what you are doing. And notice the quality as well as the quantity of these buckets of activity.

For me, I love tennis, maybe more than ever, even though I play it less than in my go-go years. I found time, much to my surprise, to live the winter in Houston with Patricia. I read more, take my learning seriously, (though the MA I got at age 65 put a nice bow on my formal learning life). I memorize more poetry. Meditate more. Pray more, especially gratitude offerings. I have more time for friends, walks with Patricia, sleep and naps, getting carried away by the beauty of trees, (and baking mulberry pies after picking the berries) more guitar and learning songs, listening to the grandkids provide snippets on their mishaps, discoveries, and school labors. I also put on more sunscreen than ever, a fruitless attempt to stem basal cells and Mohs surgeries, make more visits to the physical therapist, and find a part of myself by attending church regularly after decades of being un-churched. I found time for these more ofs, like many of us, by working less, while enjoying the work I do more than ever, much like the tennis.

I have done all these qualitative and quantitative temperings with varying degrees of deliberation and intent on the one hand, and on the other, just letting things happen naturally and following where my energy and leanings  take me.

Now your turn. What about you, what are your temperings? Give it a shot and see what you catalogue. Then let it go, take a nap, and do what comes naturally.

We need to trust ourselves that at this life stage we are ready to do something both good for our souls and for the world. Even the small things.

Keep tinkering and tempering.



Eat Twinkies, But Only With Friends

by John Schuster on August 28, 2018

in 70th Year

Making space for the Good People

Think of a person you know who “never got over” a bad event. Conversely think of those who somehow powered or muddled through big difficulties and declare they are the better for it. Why do bad things dent or even crush some and not others? This is the complex question that drives the large body of research on resilience we can now tap.

George Vaillant, MD, has something to say on this question, especially for the second-half-of-life crowd. As a keeper of one of the largest data bases of peoples’ lives over many decades, he posits a major idea: it is less the bad things that happen to you that determines your life, it is more the good people that happen to you.

Think of your own life here. Who are the good people who “happened” to you and what corner did they help you turn? There may well be many.

Happier Aging by welcoming others in.

This hopeful idea came to Vaillant after studying many a maturing person’s life and assessing the later life decades, as opposed to the mid-life ones. Those “vigorously adapted to aging” are the happy souls who were harvesting the loves and lessons from the good people who came into their lives.

His argument is convincing that happier maturing years are ahead for anyone who savors and dwells on the good relationships from family members to friends to old teachers to bosses, even—you name it. All of these connections, if long enough and positive enough, can help us dig out of the holes of the “bad things” and either neutralize them or turn them into net positives. We may be able to do this all by ourselves, but it is much more likely to happen if we have a caring other who is around at the right times to lend us a hand, listen, model, support or inspire us to move ahead.

My wife Patricia is the major good person happening to me in my life. She showed up in my 30’s and has kept showing up to help me get through my “dangers, toils and snares,“ to borrow from Amazing Grace, again and again.

More recently, in my late 60’s, I’ve befriended gerontologist Tom Cole in Houston. He came into my life with the gifts of life-long learning and conversation and to help me learn about aging in ways I did not know.

One teaching from Tom is that the aging population in the U.S. lost its respected place in the life cycle when the industrial/Victorian age took off. Its over-emphasis on the ideals of human productivity made mid-life values of success and effectiveness (emphasized over relationships) the measure for all of our years, youth and old codgers included. In the 170 years since, latter-life adults have still yet to recover from this loss of place and respect.

Isolation is one of the major bad things that can happen at any stage of life, but especially in the slower years of later lifers. But here is the antidote from Vaillant, and what we need to remember—“it is better for our health to eat Twinkies with our friends than broccoli by ourselves.“ Our relationships can literally save us and keep us healthy—that is what Vaillant is after.

I turn 70 in about two months. My 70th year blog project nears its final phase. I’ve got people to meet and friends and co-workers to cherish. And it’s time to take a walk with Patricia.

Make plenty of space for those good people.


Emergence: wisdom shows up through the crucible moments

July 30, 2018

Aging is an activity you do, not something that happens to you. ~Thomas Moore The wisdom that comes with our later years does not just show up. It was forged, if we paid attention to our experiences, in our contact with life, especially when we had staying power as things were going wrong, against our wills […]

Read the full article →

First-to-go advice for couples: what’s your preference?

July 16, 2018

The setting: I am in the Manhattan office of a colleague I much admire for his leadership and stellar career, and we are having a rich conversation on aging, aging men in particular. He tells me a story of his friend who lost his wife of many years, and then suffered deeply and for an […]

Read the full article →

Stay Happy, Stay Restless

June 21, 2018

The body will become restless until the soul paints all its beauty on the sky ~Rumi   Do not go gentle… Rage, rage against the dying of the light. ~Dylan Thomas   You don’t have to take Dylan Thomas’s advice exactly, and on your 70th b-day rage against the night. But you have my permission […]

Read the full article →