Folks often ask, “so how’re you doing? And sometimes I respond, “Who knows . . . the Shadow knows.” And that goes over the heads of most folks under, say, 70. See, I used to listen to the radio during the 1940s, sitting in our front room in our flat on Second Avenue, near 71st Street. And I listened to “The Shadow”, Fibber McGee and Molly”, “Inner Sanctum”, and others of that early ilk. “Who knows what evil lurks in the minds of man. The Shadow knows.”
But then, because I really am aging, I sometimes respond, “Aging in place.” And not everyone gets that, but most do. It means, sort of, “well, I’m hanging around, mostly in one place, and I’m getting older every day.” Mainly, it’s a signal that I no longer make any significant contribution to mankind. Hanging around . . . some might say, “waiting to go”. Now the trouble with that phrase, is that you don’t really “go” anywhere, when you end this existence on earth. No, you simply cease to exist. Which to my mind is really weird. If there is a god, she apparently didn’t think that one through.
But, in any case, it is what it is. But, the important thing about all this silliness about life and its potential ending scenarios, is that there is great reason to look on each day as a gift. Open it carefully, and treat it with respect. You may not get another one tomorrow, but, if you do, open that one carefully and treat it also with respect.
I have now lived beyond the point in the aging game where any of my family members survived. Mostly, the women ended it all around my current age, mid-80s. The men generally didn’t make it that far. To be fair, we didn’t know as much about preserving life during the 1940s – 1980s when most of my aging family “left” this life.
So, does any of this mean anything?
Well, what it means to me is that we might want to consider leaving the place at least slightly better than when we entered it. And by “better”, I obviously don’t mean financially “better”. I mean, somehow, kinder, or more humane, civil. Now it is clear that individually we can’t simply make war, or poverty, or Donald Trump disappear. But collectively, assuming we continue to care, we of course can make such things happen. Mostly, we make such momentous occasions happen by the simple process of voting. All of the idiot, lazy louts who failed to show up at the polls in 2106, because “their candidate” didn’t make it onto the ballot. And they weren’t going to vote for Hillary. So, instead, they sort of voted for Trump, simply by not showing up.
So, we all need to do our bit. Even if you decide to vote for the “least-worst” you still need to do that.
And, even beyond that minimum activity, life offers lots of ways to make our world a slightly better place. For example, the Cabarrus County Literacy Council recruits lots of volunteers like me to tutor folks who wish to learn English as a Second Language, or, as in my case, who wish to learn to read. I currently tutor a 58 year old man who simply never learned to read, despite having acquired a high school diploma. How could you acquire a high school diploma while being unable to read? Well, mostly, he used to guess on tests, had his sister help him with homework, and relied on his teachers simply passing him through each class. No one either knew or cared that he couldn’t read. He somehow learned to cope, with his brain filling in something when he couldn’t read. But, I am working with him to remedy that deficit. And, I am making his life slightly better. My wife used to tutor a man in DC who couldn’t read, but he worked in his company’s mail room. He operated by recognizing people and he knew their first initials. But now he was actually learning to read, so he might be able to read to his grandkids. Again, she was making his life a bit better.
So, it turns out, there are lots of little things each of us can do to leave this world a slightly better place than when we entered.
But, I am also increasingly aware that, as we “age in place”. We need to understand that aging thing and what it means to our earthly body. Knowing that none of us can live forever (too bad, huh god??), we all still need to become increasingly aware of the changes that could make our few remaining years more or less difficult.
Our friendly neighborhood orthopedic surgeon tells us he has one big rule—DON’T FALL. Easier said than done, huh? Well, one of the things I have noticed increasingly is that our propensity to fall seems directly related to paying attention. You know that thing about “Multitasking”? Many people think they multitask all the time. We talk on the phone, while writing an e-mail. We chat while driving, or maybe we listen to the radio while driving. Or, we walk up or down stairs while our mind wanders. But the science says, conclusively, that our brain cannot actually multitask. What our mind does instead is rapidly switch from one task to another—we “serially monotask.” Now mostly, we get away with the charade of multitasking. But often we “come a cropper”. While we are chatting on our phone, we fail to see the guy stopping in front of us suddenly, and we fail to stop before ramming into him. But if we are “aging in place”, we often open ourselves up to falls. We walk downstairs while thinking of something we need to do, and we fail to notice that we are not yet at the bottom step, and, so, we tumble down the last two steps, perhaps banging our head on something hard. Or we pay too little attention to the rug in front of us, and we fail to pick up our feet enough, and, so, we tumble.
These little occurrences increasingly dominate as we “age in place”. There is, of course, no real “solution” to these little events of the aging, except, perhaps, to being more aware. If we pay attention to the little things and stop the myth of multitasking, we really can avoid some of the nastier side effects of the aging process. I think of the simple process of walking up and down stairs. Normally, we pay no attention, and instead do something else mentally while we walk. But if instead, we focus on this simple process, holding on, really looking, we can in fact reduce the number of those nasty things called falls.
And if we pay attention pretty much all the time to what we are doing, we can avoid at least some of the nastier side effects of aging in place. I have the habit, for example, of carrying too many things at one time, instead of making more than one trip. I guess, when we are 25, we can pull off such stunts. But less so when you hit that magic 80 mark. Note please, when you are in your 80s, you are old by almost any standard. And when we hit that stage, we need to quit pretending.
We need to pay attention. In the early morning, when the sun begins to arise, go and observe the effects. It is glorious, but one must put down one’s phone while observing. When you walk in a garden and see an especially enchanting flower, or butterfly, again, stop and observe. Don’t multitask. Monotasking has real advantages, but even more so as we age.
Aging, it turns out, is not for sissies. It needs to be treated with respect. Pay attention aging folks, pay attention.
Oh, and do go to the polls and VOTE. We really do need to rid our world of Donald Trump and his gang of thugs. Please, vote, and even there, pay attention to what you are doing.