I watch my grandson still in life’s early stages as every year brings improvements. He has obvious gains in strength and physical skills, but also noticeable gains in mental insights and understanding and judgment. Those are the years we all love celebrating our birthdays, as well we should. The improvements over the year deserve a celebration.
These are also the years we are bombarded with advice on how to handle these improvements, what we need to do to develop them further, and many warnings against misusing them.
All of these gains eventually have to be given back. We only have them on loan. The only question is if we give them back all at once by dying young, or slowly give them back a little at a time by living into old age. The certainty is that we will leave this life as helpless as when we began. We get no advice on how to deal with this. Unlike the first half of life, we are left on our own to deal with it.
I am suspicious of lifestyle advice from anyone in their 30s or younger. They have not experienced loss and decline which are a big part of life. Even Jesus. He died at 33. He did not experience his own mother’s decline and death. He did not witness his aging disciples struggling to keep up as they walked from town to town on aching feet and throbbing varicose veins. He did not feel the heartache when one of them told him goodbye forever; the constant travel was becoming too much and he would have to drop out. He did not weep over the increasing health problems of his friends Judas and Mary Magdalene. He only experienced the best half of life. The ancient Greeks often made the point that it was far better to die heroically in battle while still in the prime of life than to live quietly into old age. Not my choice, but I understand the thinking.
I have found witnessing the decline of loved ones more painful than my own declines, but this is life, and I am here to experience it all, the good and the bad.
The decline does not begin overnight. The change is very subtle and extends over a long period. For a while, we can even reverse parts of the general decline. Many of us begin serious fitness programs in our fifties when our physical decline becomes obvious, and we find that decline is easy to reverse—for a while. Like others, I was in my best physical shape in my fifties. But the declining trend inexorably continues, and we are fighting a battle we are bound to lose. No 80-year-old can claim to be in the best physical shape of their lives without a lot more to the story.
Our attempts to reverse the declining trend includes the mental aspects as well as the physical. I suspect this blog is my own attempt to reverse a mental decline that I must have subconsciously noticed earlier. Some I was very conscious of. In my fifties I became involved in teaching Red Cross aquatic programs, and as part of my training, had to pass qualifying exams. I was shocked when I had to retake one I had failed because of my declining ability of recall. One question involved Newton’s three laws of motion that I knew very well from a long interest in physics, but on a written test, I could not recall them. The retest was all multiple choice, and I aced it.
All of us at this age have trouble with unpredictable loss of recall. Perhaps we can tell you the entire plot of the old movie, The Thin Man, but cannot tell you the name of the woman actress that we know very well. It’s on the tip of our tongue, and we laugh this off as a “senior moment.” We really do know the name because we recognize it as soon as we hear “Myrna Loy.” My forehead is perpetually bruised from slapping it so often.
I could not write this blog without the help of Google. Many times, I know a word is not the right one, but I cannot recall the right one. So I Google the wrong word followed by “synonym,” and up pops a list of synonyms that almost always has the word I am looking for. I recognize it immediately, use it, and you think I have this great vocabulary.
The secret to surviving the decline of aging is to develop techniques of coping so you can survive and maybe even stand out as the best in your age group. Ignore your snickering grandchildren. This we do almost automatically for physical decline, and now the computer can help with mental decline.
I would tell you how, but this would be giving advise. I’ll leave you on your own to figure it out. (Hint: Google is important.) Just be aware they will all fail eventually. I find that consoling, I kid you not. We all enter life as equals and we all leave it as equals.