How old would you be, if you had no idea how old you really were?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Extending Our Stay on the Planet - Part 2 Adaptability and Goals

Today, while were walking down the road in a Spring snow storm, and while trying not to get blown into the ditch, Sarah says to me, "Not everybody is all that worried about how long they are going to live." And I thought, "She's right." Teenagers think they're immortal. Young adults are busy with jobs, mating, families, recreation. A fair number of adults workout and pay attention to what they eat, but their immediate issue is probably not how many years they are going to live. But when you wake up one day and realize that you are the oldest person in your clan (that's me) you really do start to pay attention.

So what is the key to sticking around as long as possible while still being able to remember your name and being able to find your way home on your own? I would have voted for genetics, or possibly a positive outlook, but one of my favorite experts, Deepak Chopra, tells it this way:
Emotional adaptability is the most important single factor in keeping a person well and living long. Everyone undergoes crises, but people who can bounce back, who look toward the future instead of dwelling on the past, and who demonstrate emotional resilience are the ones who survive best.
And that makes sense to me. Lance Armstrong gets a cancer that knocks him flat on his back, invads his brain, takes one testicle, and almost takes his life. What does he do? He marshals every possible resource, learns everything he can about the cancer, submits to frightening surgery and months of nauseating chemotherapy and gets well. He calls his cancer a "bump in the road." Then what does he do? He wins the Tour de France seven years in a row.

Put positive spin on what some would call disaster and it's not hard at all to move on. My own experience having a rotten smelly leg amputated, seemed like a relief to me, an opportunity to get on with my life, a "bump in the road."

If we can change our perceptions about old age we may also be able to extend our own lives. We've all heard that we are what we eat. Take that a step farther and know that we all create our own realities. If we truly believe that old age begins at 65, we will behave in ways that will make that come true. Old rocking chair will get us. Hearing about 102-year-old Elsie McLean, made me realize that I was thinking that anyone over a hundred years old was probably drooling, and in a rocking chair. Not Elsie, she's out playing golf and making a hole-in-one.

For me, the most important keys to extending my own stay on the planet are goals and a sense of purpose. I've got 16 grandkids. One of my goals is to stick around long enough to see everyone of them graduate from college. My intention is to show up and be sharp enough to know what's going on and fit enough to locomote under my own steam.

Up next - An Old Salt's take on unloading those extra pounds.

1 comment:

Joel said...

I think both you and Deepak are right. I am looking forward to the birth of my second grandchild next month and as soon as school gets out I am going to St. Louis to visit him (and my daughter, her husband, and my granddaughter). I love teaching at the college level and I won’t have to face any mandatory retirement age. I enjoy writing and researching (I have a book chapter coming out next fall) and have more of that to look forward to.

I look to my paternal grandfather as an example of a productive old age. He passed at 98 and was always active and had things to do and look forward to. He was a cabinet maker by trade and when the depression came along and he was out of work, he turned part of the house into a hat shop for grandmother and another part into a neighborhood grocery store. He told me he never really had any money until he opened that grocery store. In his 80s he retired from the grocery business and turned it into a woodworking shop. He prowled the allies in his neighborhood and dragged home furniture to repair, refinish, and then give away.

I went through the El Niño floods in Southern California and ultimately lost everything, two businesses and our home. Nineteen families were similarly affected in my neighborhood. When I was still fighting to save our property, and our equity, I got up every morning and went from the accommodations provided by the Red Cross or the rental across the street from our property at day break and shoveled mud (we had four feet of mud and water in our home and our businesses on four separate occasions). At noon I stopped for lunch, at dinnertime I ate again and usually well after dark I went to our temporary home and slept. I repeated this for weeks. One of my neighbors later told that I was an inspiration to her. I said I didn’t feel like an inspiration, I was just doing what was right in front of me at the time. She said seeing me diligently working kept her going.

We could have survived 2 or even 3 floods, but four was too much so we started a new life, this time in a classroom in a new state. I had positive expectations and wasn’t disappointed. I love it and have never regretted the change in my life. The El Niño floods were just a bump in the road.