I’m having a wee bit of writer’s block, so I’m going to have to give this a wee bit of thought. I’m going to go back to the drawing board for this blog, “Waters of Peace,” and see what comes up. We’ll be back on-line in a few weeks.
In this post, I’m going to share an article that was written by Marie Lee from The Herald-Malaysian Church News. In this article, she writes about a presentation Larry’s aunt gave on the subject of graceful aging. Longevity is something that runs in Larry’s family. His father lived into his nineties, and his mother just passed away last November at ninety-two. He has an elderly aunt who is ninety-five. Larry’s Aunt Pat, who gave this presentation is a Catholic nun in her eighties. She has given her life to serve others in the name of Christ. In this article, she’s referred to as Sr or Sister Choong.
One of the things I found so interesting in this article is the universality of aging. The other thing I found interesting is that many of the the solutions are also universal while some of them seemed to be determined by culture. Read on and see if you don’t agree.
Marie Lee of The Herald-Malaysian Church News
How to grow old gracefully? This was an Awareness talk organised for seniors from the Church of the Holy Redeemer on the afternoon of Sunday, July 7. More than 60 seniors turned up for the session featuring guest speaker Sister Patricia Choong from the parish of St Ignatius.
Sr Choong likened the different stages of human living to the four seasons — Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Spring, she said is like childhood, strong, budding and still growing, exploring. Summer is the period of entering into and living adulthood — a time of activities, careers, marriage, building and fulfilling of dreams and aspirations. Autumn is when energy starts to slow down — the beginning of aging, perhaps the decline of health. What about Winter? Sr Choong describes it as a time of quiet and dependence on others, maybe even loneliness, because by then some friends would have gone. All the same, it need not be all negative. If a person had lived out their three previous seasons well, he or she could carry the same spirit of resourcefulness into his/her winter years and continue doing the things he/she was not able to do earlier, albeit at a much slower pace.
Life, says Sr Choong is very short. It is like a drama played on stage and everyone is given different roles to play, after which one must make their exit. Even the longest day has its exit. No one stays on forever. That being the case, the seniors were asked why they should get upset over little things. Why quarrel and harp on the dissatisfactions they face in living? Why not think positive? Why do they let animosity and bad feeling give them added stress and baggage? Why not let go of hate and start forgiving to bring in friendship? That would surely lighten the burden, allowing serenity and graceful living to accompany them as they journey through the winter of their lives.
Sr Choong strongly advocated living in the present. Do not leave until tomorrow what can be done today — and do it now. Act immediately to mend bridges and foster better understanding with those who matter so that lives will not be full of regrets. That is crucial if one is to age gracefully. Appreciation of and thankfulness for goodness and blessings enhance the joys of living and aging becomes no issue.
Most people constantly worry about their tomorrows, that their “Today” becomes obscured. They fail to see the beauty of the present — so they are not able to acknowledge and appreciate what is good.
Seniors were advised not to be afraid of aging and growing old, as aging is a natural process. They should learn to make the best of situations and circumstances, to be happy and enjoy their everyday living.
There is also a need to grow in holiness. Keep God close. Talk to God amd bond with Him, Sr Choong encouraged. Colour up your spirituality. Get positive. Find humour and infuse laughter into every day situations through companionship with God.
How to counter aging? Certainly, not with cosmetics or hair dye or plastic surgery. A good antidote is to catch up on forgotten dreams, left aside earlier because of responsibilities and perhaps financial constraints. Now that the nests are empty, and the duties done, counter the loneliness with new purpose, for that brings in new hopes, new living and new accomplishments to retard aging and keep one going.
It was an eye and mind opener to many who attended the talk that the HOW to age gracefully is really something very simple and basic. It is very much living in the present, the now. It is being appreciative of and grateful for what we have and acknowledging our benefits. Do what needs to be done now, and do not leave till tomorrow, what could be accomplished today.
That way there would be no regrets which cause unnecessary suffering and pain. Be happy every day of our lives. Have the capacity to forgive. Keep God in the mind and heart always, for He is our friend in our journey. God has taken care of our yesterdays, so trust our tomorrows in his hands and just live the present well.
In an earlier post this week, I wrote about lost flower blooms and lost potential. Then, that tight little broken dahlia bud did something amazing. It bloomed. Right here on my dining room table. I had to smile as I stand corrected. Sometimes our potential isn’t lost at all. Sometimes, we just bloom late, and sometimes we struggle through brokenness to bloom.
I’m going to change the name of the guilty in this post. For those who knew me in high school, there’s a good chance you may know who I’m talking about. By changing the name, I’m hoping the event I’m going to share won’t be the thing that gets the most attention, but instead, the outcome.
When I went to high school, math was taught in a team atmosphere. It was a big class with several teachers; four, I think, although I only remember two. Math was a struggle for me. I never really knew that until I hit Algebra in high school. The team atmosphere didn’t help foster learning for me. I needed to be in a smaller class that would give more individualized attention. With that in mind, I swallowed my pride, took a big dose of courage, and asked one of the teachers for help. He suggested we meet before school. I agreed. So, I came to school early and met Mr. Hamilton* before classes began. We weren’t too far into the tutoring session, when he made an inappropriate and highly charged sexual remark. He stopped short of touching me, but it took what was a benign and hopefully helpful meeting between a teacher and a student and turned it into a highly charged sexual situation that made this sexually naïve sixteen-year-old extremely uncomfortable. I left as quickly as possible. I skipped algebra that day, and I never again asked for help from any of the teachers. I avoided Mr. Hamilton at all costs. I tried my best to just meld into the center of the class, which was where my grade fell. I got a “C” in algebra, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I can remember seriously believing I would never, and I do mean never have to sit through another math class EVER!
So much really does depend on math. Down the drain went all science and any class that had any connection to math. I tried again at age thirty-five, but couldn’t bring myself to ask the teacher for any help. I stumbled through Algebra I with the help of another student, but I knew I wasn’t prepared for Algebra II, so I quit school. I realize now that I never really did connect my high school experience to my general feelings of fear and dislike for math. I just lumped it into one category. I told myself and others, “I can’t do math.” “Algebra is beyond me.” “I’ll never understand the concept of Algebra.” I was very convincing. I even believed it.
At age forty-seven, I began to understand where much of my fear of math was coming from, and I was determined to beat it. I found a wonderful teacher at the local community college. I never told him of my previous experience, but with another dose of courage, I asked for help. Through our interactions, he was able to restore both my trust in teachers and in my ability to “do the math.” I came away with a 3.2 in one class, and a 3.0 in the next. I cannot begin to express my gratitude for this fine, upstanding teacher.
Just like my broken dahlia bloom, there was a part of me that was broken. When I thought of what had happened to me in high school, which wasn’t often, I thought the damage was irrevocable, but it wasn’t. Through my own hard work and the help of another, I was able to overcome the obstacles that stood in my way and persevere through three quarters of math. Not only did I do well in these classes, but I no longer was afraid to ask for help. It took me a long time, but I began to see what kept me stuck, and then, I was able to realize I was no longer that naïve sixteen-year-old. I had over thirty more years on me now, and I could hold my own in a classroom.
I didn’t do this alone, though. Just as I took the dahlia bloom and placed it in water to give it the very best chance of blooming, my math professor used his professionalism and kindness to help a student to bloom and reach her full potential.
All of this happened way too late. It should’ve happened at the age of twenty instead of forty-seven. Because of this circumstance, my bloom won’t last as long as it could have. Just as my sweet little dining room dahlia won’t be as glorious or last as long as it would have under ideal circumstances. But I don’t concentrate on that. Instead, just as my tight little dahlia bloom was able to open even though it had suffered damage, I too, have bloomed after suffering some damage, and I’m in the process of reaching my full potential. Truly, all is not lost, even at this late date. In fact, the timing of it is inconsequential. The blooming is what’s important.
*Name has been changed.
When I was in the sixth grade, my teacher, Mr. Carter*, was changing the seating arrangement in our classroom. Mr. Carter asked each of us to give him a list of three people we would most like to be near in our new seating arrangement. We were to list these three in order of our first to third choices. He promised us that we would be able to sit next to at least one person on our list. He would do his best to seat us near to as many friends as possible.
I knew I wanted my best friend, Rebecca* to sit next to me, so, I listed her first. There was a boy in class who I had shared an on again off again crush, and at the time of these changes, my crush was off. His was apparently on, because he wanted me next to him. He asked me to put him on my list, and said he would put me in the number one slot on his list. I didn’t really want to put Todd* on my list. I had two girlfriends I would’ve rather had near me. But I did it anyway. I placed him in my second slot and didn’t give it another thought.
When we came to school the following Monday, our desks were in our new seating arrangement, and I was sitting right next to Todd. Rebecca was several rows away. I was stupefied. Why wasn’t I seated next to Rebecca? Later, on my way out to recess, I asked Mr. Carter that very question. With a knowing look, he said, “You got your second choice.”
Well, he had me there.
As I look back on my sixth grade experience, I can see how Mr. Carter went to a great deal of trouble to teach us all kinds of lessons. I didn’t know this at the time but now, as an adult, I realize that he most likely knew each of us better than we knew ourselves, and he was extremely aware of class liaisons. Through this class experiment, he wanted us to learn to speak up for what we wanted and be clear about what we didn’t want.
For some folks, speaking up for what they want or need is any easy thing. For me, it’s taken decades to learn that lesson. I’m better at it now than I was in the sixth grade, although I’m still not great at it, and it hasn’t gotten any easier with age. I’ve just become more aware of its importance, and that awareness has helped me in my efforts.
Still, after all this time, speaking up requires a dose of courage and strength because it can make me feel so vulnerable. I’m allowing others to take my expressed feelings and do what they will with them, and sometimes even my best efforts are misunderstood. For me, that can create a hardship. However, as Mr. Carter’s class experiment proved, the alternative isn’t all that great. When we don’t speak up for what we want, we’re asking for a whole desk full of trouble. I had to sit next to Todd for weeks! By that time, my crush was definitely OFF!
As I look back on my sixth grade experiences, I can honestly say that Mr. Carter was the best teacher I ever had. He was a great teacher when it came to reading, writing, and arithmetic, but he excelled in teaching the deeper life skills that I remember to this day.
*Names has been changed.
I marvel at salmon. Here in the Northwest, salmon are part of the landscape. Their birth and then their trip downstream to the ocean are fraught with complications and danger. Most don’t make it. But it’s their return journey that fascinates me the most, because they’re swimming upstream. For days and weeks on end, they travel thousands of miles against that upstream current, facing many of the same dangers that existed on their trip downstream along with some new ones, as well. Lately, I have felt an affinity with salmon in that I feel as if I’m swimming upstream myself.
Back in June, I was accepted to the University of Washington/ Tacoma. I had applied to four universities and was accepted by all four. UWT was the school of my choice. I was so excited when I finally heard from them.
Then, everything went wrong, and much of it is still going wrong. I spent months upon months applying for every possible scholarship. I worked so hard at these applications, it felt as if I was taking another class, but one without any kind of grade or reward. I haven’t been awarded any funds. I can understand. With Larry at sixty and me at fifty, we’re considered well established financially. We make enough money to pay our bills and live comfortably, but we don’t make enough to cover the extra 12,000.00 plus that will come yearly with the goal of attending school, and the idea of getting a student loan at this time in our lives feels like financial suicide. So far, that’s been the only help I’ve been “awarded.” So, as things stand now, we’re not sure if we’re going to have the money to pay for schooling this fall.
Then, on top of that, I started looking at my transportation options. UWT is at least ninety minutes from my home with precarious parking. However, if I want to take the bus, I’m probably looking at, the very least, a 2 ½ hour commute—each way.
These are just two of the several obstacles that are in my path as I try to navigate the waters of higher education. Needless to say, I’m discouraged.
Then, I go to the beach for a moment, and I look out over the water, and I think of all those salmon out there, rushing to the headwaters of their home rivers so they can lay their eggs before dying. Well, that’s one good thing. I don’t plan on dying at the end of my upstream swim. I hope to live and to enrich the living of others. But as I think of these salmon, I consider everything they have to dodge and overcome. And they’re just fish! If they don’t get out of this life without an upstream swim, I doubt any of us will be so lucky. Some of us will most likely have many upstream swims. This isn’t the only time I’ve found myself going against the current, and I doubt it’ll be the last.
I may not make it to UWT this fall. In the same way that salmon hit a waterfall or a dam and have to jump several times in order to pass it, I may just find myself tumbling down this obstacle until next year. But like many of the fish that do reach their end journey, they’re the strongest of their species. When I finally do end up going to school, whether it will be this year or some other future time, I hope the same will be able to be said of me. That the swim upstream made me strong.
I hate losing flower blooms—blossoms that die before they open. It’s happened twice this season. The first bloom I lost thanks to Ace, who was sure his tennis ball was cohabitating with my dahlias. Before Larry could call him out of the flower bed, he had broken one of the stalks at the ground. I had been watering and caring for that dahlia, along with its sister dahlias for months now. It would’ve bloomed within the next couple of weeks. I didn’t get after Ace, but I did mention to Larry that I was going to miss that dahlia bloom I’d spent months coaxing.
The second lost bloom came because of the rain. My Sun Dahlias are huge. I don’t know if that’s what they’re really called, but that’s what they look like to me. When the rain hit them, they drooped and then broke, taking with them tender young blooms that will never reach their full potential. As nice as the rain was on this particular August day, I was sorry for the loss of the bloom.
What I’m really saying is that I hate the loss of potential for beauty and full development. I hate it wherever I see it–a withered, weedy garden patch or a lost flower bloom, or perhaps a friend, sister, or brother who, for whatever reason, won’t reach beyond what they are to become something better, maybe even something great.
I firmly believe that when it comes time for each of us to meet our Maker, we’re not going to be compared to each other. I believe we’re going to be compared to what we could’ve been. We’re going to be compared to our own full potential. How far we get on the scale of potential is going to matter…a lot! What may matter just as much is whether or not we helped or hindered others on their way to their full potential.
There are people who can’t tolerate the success or the growing potential of others because they think it takes away from their success or their potential for success. You see this in the writing/ publishing world quite a bit. I used to worry about it, too. The general thought is, because there’s only so much money in someone’s wallet, if they buy your book, they’re not going to be able to afford mine.
I gave all that up and have decided to simply concentrate on writing the best book I know to write. The rest of it will unfold accordingly. Does that mean I’m going to throw my work out there without any help? Nope. That would go against the very thing I’m writing about at the moment. I will help it reach its full potential in any way I can. What I’m not going to do is worry about what other writers, publishers, or book buyers are doing. That doesn’t help anyone on their way to full potential, least of all me. Instead, I’m going to see that my own work will bloom in its own appointed way. I wish I could say this is going to make me a multi-million dollar author, but I seriously doubt it will. That dream had to be tossed out the window along with the worry. Instead, my new hope is that I’ll be able to reach my full potential in all areas of my life and help others along the way to reaching theirs.
As I’ve read magazine articles on aging, I’ve come to realize that much of what I’m reading I’m already doing. With that in mind, I’ve made up my own list of ten things we may or may not always consider when it comes to aging gracefully. Some things on this list may be reminders. Others may be new considerations. So, give a read and give it some thought.
1.) Get good sleep. I say this because most adults don’t get enough quality sleep, and when we don’t get quality sleep, it can make it difficult to function during our waking hours. Just ask a young mother with babies at home. Our amount of sleep affects everything from our immune system and mood to our metabolism and ability to remember things. Sleep deprivation can cause weight gain, irregular heartbeat, and car accidents, just to name a few things. (Importance of Sleep: Six Reasons Not to Scrimp on Sleep , 2006) The average adult needs 7-9 hours nightly. This may not be doable throughout all seasons of life, but when we have the choice, choose sleep. Choose sleep over TV, Facebook, and yes, even this blog. I’ll be here in the morning. For more information and a great read on the importance of sleep, click here: http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need
2.) Meditate every day—even if it’s just for five minutes. This is harder than you may think. At least it is for me. I have a very busy mind. But when I take time to do this, I feel better. For one thing, I’m putting mind over mind. Meditation is a discipline, and by doing it, I’m disciplining my mind to create a new state of awareness. I like to sit in a comfortable position and breathe deeply, concentrating on each breath. This helps clear my body, mind, and spirit of toxins.
3.) Speaking of toxins. Sweat a little, or a lot. Take a ten minute walk if that’s all you can do. Do more if you can. Five minutes of meditation and ten minutes of walking can help set up your day nicely, regardless of your age. Here’s an added bonus. Exercise can help with hot flashes. They won’t go away completely, but if you exercise regularly, it can help tame them.
4.) Eat a cupcake occasionally. Most diets fail because of deprivation. We can only take so much of it. So, don’t cheat yourself out of your yummies. I have a small or a couple of little yummies every day. That might be one square of really good chocolate, ½ cookie or cupcake, or a cup of hot cocoa using low or no fat milk. I look forward to this every day.
Once every three to four months, Larry and I go out for the most common of American meals: cheeseburger, french fries, and a milkshake. That way, I know I’m going to get something I really love. I may have to wait a few months, but my cheeseburger is coming. By practicing my eating in this way, there’s a true awareness around my meals, which lessens the guilt (it never completely goes away, but that’s my own thing.), and I really enjoy it. Having awareness around what I eat helps me eliminate overeating, helps me enjoy what I eat, and satiates my appetite sooner.
5.) Drink plenty of water. Our body runs on water. No water. No body. Every cell needs water to live and work at its optimum capacity. Water your cells!
6.) Serve. I’m not just talking about giving a few cans of food to the food bank or sending a check to the United Way or Red Cross. Those things are important, but I’m referring to service from the heart. Service that is up close and personal, even if it is anonymous. Give to the point of feeling it. Give when you’d rather not. Step up when you’d rather step away. I’m not going to guarantee that you’ll come away feeling great or satisfied. You may not. Giving on this level can be difficult and make us tired because it’s a sacrifice, and sacrifice isn’t easy. But it’s on my list of necessary things for graceful aging because it makes us feel alive like nothing else. It reminds us of our connections to others and the whole family of humanity. That’s good for the soul.
7.) Read something holy. For me this means scripture. I read a chapter almost every morning. Right now, my book of choice is The New Testament. This work can do two things. It can bring comfort, but it can also broaden the mind and spirit by taking us out of our everyday to-do list and make us consider something bigger than ourselves.
8.) Worship. Choose a way that is comfortable for you and will encourage you to consider life from a different angle. For me, this means a variety of things. Yes, I go to church on Sunday, but my worship doesn’t stop there. It also includes prayer, meditation, reading and researching many good books that help me understand myself, the world around me, and my relationship with God and others. Recognizing there is a Higher Power can infuse our life with purpose and encourage us to engage in our own lives and in the lives of others in a way that can hold deep meaning.
9.) Stay flexible in both body and spirit. It’s no newsflash that as we age we harden. Our arteries harden. Our muscles stiffen. Our bones become brittle. Our minds can become rigid, too. In my opinion, flexibility of mind and spirit is the number one ingredient for graceful aging.
For flexibility of body, there are plenty of good books and DVDs on simple stretching exercises, yoga, and other disciplines that encourage us to stay limber. For the mind, we can challenge ourselves with new ideas, new friends, new foods, cultures, classes. Become a novice at something. The list is endless. Staying flexible in body and spirit encourages us to make connections with knowledge and people, which helps us grow and learn, keeping our mind and spirit flexible and ever reaching. We’ll never know all there is to know, and that should encourage us to learn all we can.
10.) Look into the eyes of those you love. I mean, really see them. Let them see you. It can be harder than you think, if you’re not used to the deep parts of the soul. But the connection from soul to soul is a big part of what keeps us young. Many studies have been done to show that those who are connected to a community of loved ones—family and friends live longer, happier lives. So, start fostering those connections, now.
(Importance of Sleep: Six Reasons Not to Scrimp on Sleep , 2006)