Like father, like son.
Some time ago a lifelong friend commented that I’m looking more and more like my father. I don’t mind that, I guess, even if I don’t think much about appearances. But the comment got me thinking about something that has crossed my mind from time to time. How does aging affect our willingness to engage in life?
No matter how you answer the question, one thing is sure: no answer can be universal. I have known 90 year olds who are far more engaged with life and people and contemporary culture than some of the 50 year olds I know. So, clearly, there is no rule that says you have to behave in a certain way as you get older.
But the question is still valid. And I’ve been toying with one way the answer manifests itself.
When I was in my 30’s and 40’s — past the point when we were getting our family started and finding our place in the world — I periodically asked my parents and Peg’s dad (her mom having already passed from this world) about doing various things, or going various places. At the time I thought it odd that opportunities I thought really interesting would seem as uninteresting to them as their reactions indicated. They simply weren’t interested. And yet they were all very active retirees — they just weren’t active in ways I thought they might be, in light of their earlier lives.
The fact that we are interested in one group of ideas and activities when we’re one age doesn’t mean we’ll maintain those interests all the way through life. But even if we do maintain a consistent interest I think there comes a time in life when similarities become more obvious than they once were.
I early in life I enjoyed museums. After visiting a lot of them there is a certain “sameness” even when the museum’s speciality is unique. As of this writing I’m not all that interested in seeing yet another museum because I know a.) that much of it will be like every other museum I’ve visited and b.) the amount that I will retain of the new stuff isn’t all that great. If I were bored (which I’m not) it might be a way to “kill” a day, but frankly I have things I’m interested in that I’d rather invest my time in; as I’m not into wasting the days I have remaining. I’m sure there are millions of such choices and decisions.
Sometimes as we age we stop doing things because of infirmity. My grandmother had some mobility issues before the days of mobility chairs. There were times when she — who once was quite the walker — stopped wanting to take walks, for no greater reason than it was too painful. I never remember her using pain as an excuse; but I also know that at the end of every day she followed her own pain management routine in a time when no one ever heard the expression “pain management.” She had her own herbal recipes and used them regularly. But there was never an excuse offered; she just declined to come along.
Not everyone ages the same way. We’ve all seen photos of former President Jimmy Carter still working with Habitat for Humanity. He’s a great example of staying involved with the world after retirement. The active among us can easily find causes and reasons to stay involved. Family is probably the most common: helping out the next generation. In our day there are a lot of grandparents raising grandchildren as primary caregivers because of problems their children became involved in. There are volunteer opportunities out there for those who are interested. Others get involved with civic or church activities. There are plenty of chances to stay involved if you want them.
But we don’t have to do everything — in fact we really can’t — the world is too big. We don’t have to feel bad that our energy may be limited — we all worked hard when we were employed, these years we call “retirement” are supposed to time for us to reap the benefits of age that society provides.
That doesn’t mean that your 30 year old children, or 40 year old children will understand when you say, “I’m not interested.” They won’t understand why things you formerly cared about “suddenly” (to them) you seem not to be interested in. They are in a different stage in life. It’s not unlike the consternation that children face after the death of one parent. Why mom or dad is suddenly interested in another partner to spend time with; or conversely, why the aren’t interested in being social and “getting out there.” Those are feelings that arise in the heart of the observer, not the person going through the experience. And it’s just the same about why we don’t feel the need to stay involved with things that once captivated us.
One of my personal greatest joys is when I come across someone older than me who still has young ideas. No — I don’t mean that they want to do things young people do! I mean that their mind is still agile, they are seeking out new thoughts and new ideas, that they see the changes going on in the world around them and are actively looking for ways to stay current, to have an impact, to learn and grow and devlop. Just because we get old that doesn’t mean our brains turn to much and we spend our days playing silly-buggers.
They aren’t all that common, mind you. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of the “everyday”. Days can blur into sameness if we let them. I guess that is why I have enjoyed the challenge of staying computer literate, of keeping my hand in photography, yeah, and even the planning and research that full time RV’ing required. These were all challenges made new every day. A software change forced me to do things differently. Road construction forced me to re-route a trip. Clouds moving across the sun required that I change my exposure or risk losing a great image. Being forced to adjust to the world is a good thing. It’s just that as we age adjusting to things can be an every increasing challenge.
Peggy struggles with sleep. I struggle with my weight and with my health. Nothing about our lives are overt or grotesque — but we no longer live the same way we used to live, even if our lives look the same.
Our recent discovery of how nice it is to sit under the carport and let the perspiration dry before going inside is such a commonplace reality. Last summer this time we were in Northern Wisconsin, we took our morning walks and hung our daily arrival tags in the campground and we didn’t fall into any practice of sitting outside after our walk. It was cooler, there were more bugs, etc.. Here, even an early morning walk doesn’t happen without a sheen of perspiration coating our body and that little sit-down takes on a much sweeter feel to it. I don’t think we’ve changed all that much but life has changed and we are adapting.
Last summer we were particularly conscious of the fact that we weren’t feeling the need to be out discovering the local area all the time. It felt weird after years on the road and getting into a routine of local exploration after arriving in a place. But this was somewhere we’d been regularly before. We didn’t feel the need to explore.
This summer we are in a place we’ve been once before. “Once before” is not nearly as often as the number of times we had returned to Highland Ridge, last summer’s home. And yet the perceived “need” to explore while here is even lower. There area a lot of places we haven’t yet been. But I’ve been more interested in getting to know a few folks here in the park (not a lot, just a few), and we are visiting a certain few places much more regularly and that’s all that we feel the “need” to do.
I’m learning why mom and dad didn’t really care to go along. I’m learning why Peg’s dad has his little timely rituals, those little things he did all the time as if there were a clock with silent alarms that only he heard. There really are ways in which though we have never gone every place and done every thing, that we have in fact gone to enough of them, and done enough of them that we don’t need to try out any more.
A neighbor here bought a Class B motorhome the other day. They had to make changes to their carport to accommodate the new RV. I look at their lifestyle and to me the purchase of an RV at their time in life seems ridiculous — but obviously to them it doesn’t. And I’m quite happy to say, “Hey, go for it.” I don’t have to understand their decision — as long as they know what they are doing. The great delight about this big, wonderful world is that we do have free will. We have the power of choice to live our life as we see fit, whether or not anyone in the world agrees with us (as long as our choices are legal).
Most of my life I was still intent on seeing what else was out there, what else was available. I think we have finally gotten to the point that we’re comfortable that we know enough about what’s there that we can feel comfortable not feeling the need to discover new things. We’re content that we have more than we need to keep us as busy as we choose to be right where we are. In fact, we’ll never accomplish all the things that we already can visualize. It’s enough.
So, I know I haven’t been everywhere and done everything, but I’m content I have done enough to know what I want. That’s not a bad place to be.