Living longer challenges us to think about aging based on one’s health status, social adaptability, financial and social resources, rather than the number of years lived.
I see the art of living longer with quality like nested Russian dolls.
Meet mine: Pursue self-care, de-clutter trash and treasures, be forgiving of self and others, give generously, share life with whomever God sends, reclaim or deepen your relationship with creation and Creator, let go and let God surround you with love.
My wife, Emily, and I had a marvelous mentor early on in our relationship: Rev. J.L. Niell. He worked long after his first retirement as a campus minister and lived into his 90s with great joie de vivre. I remember that one of his many kind of personal proverbs was something like “Do not love things, love people.”
Now that I’m quite a bit older myself, I try to remember that, and like our hero J.L., to spend time listening and paying attention to children and youths as they look to futures beyond our generation.
I learned from my grandmother, Lelia Jones, to laugh at yourself no matter what. One of Dr. Seuss’ last books was her favorite, and she read from it at her 90th birthday: “You’re Only Old Once. “ In true Seussian rhyme and form, it provides a humorous account of aging in our culture, especially in regard to medical care. I like the way it ends: “When at last we are sure you’ve been properly pilled, then a few paper forms must be properly filled — so that you and your heirs may be properly billed. And you’ll know, once your necktie’s back under your chin … you’re in pretty good shape for the shape you are in!”
We all naturally have resistance to yielding some of our independence and accepting help for things we once could do by ourselves. But especially in an increasingly complex society, it is wise to focus on the things we can do and also to make use of resources that connect us with others — not just our comfortable circle of friends and family, but also people and organizations we may have never known.
Gracefully giving up our need to control all aspects of our lives opens us up to new opportunities to share our gifts with others and to stimulate new vitality for ourselves.
Recent research from the Plough Foundation shows:
Neighbors can play a major role in helping one another, a win-win situation with no cost to governmental agencies or charities;
In Shelby County, 83 percent of seniors said they and their neighbors routinely help one another with errands or chores; and
Approximately 90 percent of seniors feel their neighbors are honest, trustworthy and willing to help.
My 82-year-old mother taught herself how to play the piano at 70. She walks 3 miles every day. She averages 145 in bowling. She golfs, ministers at the neighborhood nursing home every week, as well as the local prison. I could go on and on. She certainly lives up to her advice: “Don’t rust out; burn out!”
I find it helpful to be reminded that the person of God’s creating — each of us — is neither young nor old, not in God’s eyes. Perhaps it should not be any different when we see others. When John, James and Peter saw Jesus, Elijah and Moses together during the transfiguration, I doubt that they gave any thought to the ages of the people they saw.
I do believe that as we grow older we can live by certain guiding principles: Realize aging is what it is, can’t stop it; keep on taking care of your body and mind; keep on investing in making the world a better place day by day; love and live every moment as best you can with joy; and stay enthusiastically connected to God.
I remember when I was much younger going with my mother to visit folks in the nursing homes. Some were so nice and kind; others were mad at the world. I asked my mother about the mad ones. She explained that so-and-so had something happen to her in life and never got over it. “I hope I’m kind and sweet when I get older,” I said. Mother replied, “Well, you better start being kind and sweet now. When you get older, you just get more of what you were when you were young.”