Aging: the deliberations that create what we experience

by evoker on November 22, 2017

in 70th Year

I have a Florida friend who had two knees replaced at age 63 so he could keep playing high level tennis. He is designing his elderhood, his later life years.

I have a 60-something friend who moved from Long Island after several decades. She uprooted herself and went to Philly to live near her family. She is yet to settle in, but she is giving it time. She is designing her elderhood.

I have an 87-year-old friend who put money down on a tiered living arrangement eight years after he became a widower, then walked away from the deal. “I am an introvert and love my solitude. This is the best time of my life. They were going to treat me like I’m an extrovert in need of lots of activities.” He bought a homecare plan for when he needs it, and wants to live in his big house by himself to the end of his years. He is designing his elderhood.

I met a woman recently who divorced her husband after 42 years. She had had enough of his self-centeredness. Ouch. But she is designing her elderhood.

All four are deliberating and designing their futures.

Having a pulse means we design our lives. We decide to do certain things and not to do millions of other things. These decisions put in motion the structure and circumstances that we build out of those we inherited. We can’t change what we inherited. We can and do change the ones we construct.

So we design. We say yes and no. We choose.

We make a whole series of choices, some big ones, throughout life; and there are big ones to make at whatever age we begin to climb down the career/raising family ladder and find discretionary time. The data is clear, the older you get, the more discretionary time you will have.

Have we done enough thinking about what our choices are? How much imagination are we bringing to the later life years? How much courage to change? Travel magazines are a start, but not enough. The happiest elders I know have brought real imagination to their life choices, and have been willing to take some risks. What are you doing about the set of choices you are facing now or will face soon?

Many of us pretended that all our early adult and midlife career and family/community choices would carry us indefinitely. They won’t, not if we live long. The kids grow up and leave eventually. We say good bye to big chunks, if not most, of our careers. I heard a 45-year-old dentist once complaining about this arrangement in his mid-life restlessness: “I am not very happy in my work,” he said. “Why should I expect it?—a 17-year-old boy, 28 years ago, decided I would be a dentist.” I am sure you get the math here. Why would our late adolescent/early adulthood choices last into our 70s?

As a result of these long lives we live, there is work to do as we enter our later life years—we have new choices to make about our health, our range of activities and friends, our places to live. May we choose wisely, and may we scramble to repair the damage when we make a decision that is not.

Irish poet John O Donahue can help us here.

May we have the courage today
to live the lives that we would love
to postpone our dreams no longer
to do at last what we came here for
and waste our hearts on fear no more

Image above: “A lovely journey” By Sathis Babu is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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