Tools for Better Aging
Affirmation: The Best is Yet to Come.
On a delightful day in the North Carolina Mountains, my friend, Travis and I headed to the Watauga County Farmer’s Market. What would we find? We found fresh from the farm fruits and veggies, hand crafted pottery and jewelry, home made jams and soaps, wild flowers and giant sunflowers and a street musician or two. There were gifts for all of the senses and there were all types of people from the farmers and craft people to the tourists and the “snow birds.” So, while we found loads of goodies, the neatest part of our outing was meeting a couple of the vendors who were not selling produce but were selling services.
One young woman was there representing the Women’s Sustainable Agriculture Association. The following Saturday was to be the local garden and farm tour. You would receive a map and for $15 you could spend the day driving from farm to farm. She was with AmeriCorps. She explained it was like the Peace-core. Her two year assignment was almost up and when I asked her about her experience she exclaimed that it was, “wonderful!” Wonderful! Wow, I immediately wanted to be in my early twenties and a volunteer or perhaps I could at least share the concept with my grandchildren and encourage them towards “wonderful.”
Then we headed to the Daniel Boone Gardens. They were sponsoring “Fairy Day.” There were dozens of little girls skipping around in tutus, flowery headbands and gossamer wings. Once again I wished I were younger and had a pair of those shiny sparkle wings. Part of the event included a group from Appalachian State University. They were there representing the AgeLabs of the Psychology Department. The young woman, Lisa Emery, we stopped to chat with was a professor in that department and they were looking for older adults to volunteer for some of their research projects. Would we be interested? Well, I wasn’t young enough to join AmeriCorps and I felt too old to wear fairy wings and tutus but I didn’t feel old enough to qualify for an “older adult” research study.
As we talked we gravitated towards my favorite subject, our self-talk; how we create it and how it influences every aspect of our lives. She shared that one of the studies regarding aging and attitude showed a direct relationship between our later years and our perception of aging. For example, if one believes that one’s memory will definitely deteriorate as one ages, one’s memory will most likely become worse. What that pre-conceived notion also creates is a vacuum for a helpful medial diagnosis like a hormonal issue, a thyroid condition or even perhaps a brain tumor. This belief system may lead one to an earlier deterioration or even an early death.
What are your pre-conceived beliefs about aging? Do you think you must get heavier, weaker, less agile, more crotchety? Perhaps you think you’ll be a worse driver, have no real purpose, or not find any meaning in life anymore. Maybe you’re someone who chooses to see the later years as a time of freedom and adventure. Guess what? The future you imagine is more likely to happen than not. Certainly, if you do not see a future filled with blessings and possibilities, even when they arrive you probably won’t recognize them.
Sister Joan Chittister in The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully says one of the challenges of aging is that there’s no defined purpose to life after the age of 70. Before that most people, not in a third world country, are getting an education, then raising a family and developing a career and finally crafting a retirement plan and then “wham” if you’re one of the lucky ones you’re on your own to figure out what life without a societal definition looks like. I find her writing to be uplifting and filled with hope. Her chapter on Immediacy reminded me, once again, of the power I have to choose moment to moment, day to day, on what I want to focus. She writes, “What we too often fail to realize is that living fully depends a great deal more on our frame of mind, our fundamental spirituality, than it does on our physical condition.”
The question that I find myself asking is, how do I want to live out the years I have left? What words do I want to choose to craft a joyful, meaningful later life? I have some of the most inspirational older men and women in my life. I want to emulate them. I have one dear friend, Joanne, who at this time is almost retired and has prepared for it by taking up gardening at the NC Museum of Art, helping different chefs demonstrate their cooking techniques at a local kitchen shop, refurbishing furniture for people with limited incomes who are trying to set up a home and she also became a qualified “barbecue” judge. Another of my dear friends, Jean, is a phenomenal artist who founded and supports The Cary Artist’s (coop) Gallery. Two of my heroines are Sisters Mary Margaret and Judy, who are co-directors of A Place for Women to Gather in Raleigh, NC. At the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program there are dozens of retirees who show up once a week and sometimes more often to be patient navigators and supporters. The list is endless. People who created meaningful, fulfilling lives after their years of defined work.
Some of my passions are learning, yoga, the fiddle and writing. I love to travel too. I love a car trip. I actually took up the fiddle because of my deceased Uncle Frank. I never heard him play but I knew he played with the Long Island Senior Symphony until his late 90s. He and my dearly departed Aunt Alice had a very rich older life revolving around their music and their church. I recognized that I might need something I could do while sitting. Little did I realize the physical toll violin playing or fiddling can take on the body. (I’m often asked, “What’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle?” The answer came from a seven year old one day. “A violin has strings and a fiddle has strangs.”) It has been a joy learning how to fiddle. As an adult learner I still struggle but I love love love playing. If my arm and shoulder don’t cooperate, I plan to take up the Irish drum. (If you’d like to see my group in action view, The Elderberry Jam Band: https://youtu.be/Bp7hu358LH8.)
I plan to stay strong. I see myself as still agile and alert. I see myself still trying new things and embracing new people and new ideas. I see myself surrounded by love and compassion. I see myself as still contributing anyway possible, especially with prayer, to hopefully make this world a better place. I can’t help but see some of the challenges and loses I will also face but I see myself dealing with those the same way I’ve dealt with the ones in the past, with grace, dignity and even some humor. I think the affirmation that most fits this concept of looking towards the future with excitement and optimism is: The Best is yet to Come. I can own those words. I can believe that with all the tools I’ve collected over my lifetime, especially that of my faith, family and friends, life will be better as I age than it has ever been before.