Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: growing old

Day one of my eightieth year

Image by M W from Pixabay 

Another birthday, this one is number 79. That many candles on a birthday cake would set off the smoke alarm; perhaps I should feel more alarmed than I do.

In my younger days I couldn’t comprehend the world being able to withstand the impact when all those 9’s in 1999 would rotate to become 2000. It seems I wasn’t alone in having irrational fears about that date, but it is 21 years behind us now. So many years are behind me now that I begin to wonder how many remain in front of me.

I had my annual physical checkup yesterday and the doctor found my heart and lungs were sound. I complained of sciatica in one hip and he thought it was probably arthritis. After checking out the range of pain free movement in my legs he dismissed that idea. So I am hale and hearty, with twinges of discomfort here and there to tell me that my body remembers all those years that are behind me.

As I grow older it becomes clear that I need to choose to become the kind of old guy who is interested in the people and goings on around me. There are enough complainers already, saying how the world isn’t what it used to be, mainly because no one cares about them anymore. Some old people are story tellers, they are more interesting, but eventually you have heard all the stories and they’re not learning new ones.

Story telling isn’t a bad thing. Every person has a story that is interesting and instructive to others, but some folks get into a rut of telling and retelling just a small part of their story. It believe it would be a good school project for upper grade children to interview the elderly, try to draw out their stories and write them down.

The really delightful older people are those who want to hear your story, and those who ask you what you want to hear about the things they have done and seen in life. It seems to me that people like that usually don’t develop dementia so soon as others. There are many causes of dementia, but medical experts tell us the brain is a plastic organ, able to develop new paths of memory in people with an active curiosity.

I consider myself to have an active mind. At times my curiosity leads me to information that causes me to change my mind about something. That is a healthy exercise for the mind. Another helpful exercise would be to become more of an active listener to other people. Not an aggressive listener, but less of a passive observer. Just as I have to choose to get physical exercise because my work no longer involves much physical activity, so I must choose to do things that exercise my mind, to keep it fit and healthy.

I want to live until I die

Age segregation begins in schools. As schools get bigger and bigger it is more and more difficult for a child to relate to those outside her own age group. At the other end of life, retirement offers freedom, but it is freedom with no purpose. Retirees associate with other retirees and strive to keep themselves amused. Eventually they go into retirement homes, which isolates them still more from other age groups. Then they go to nursing homes. As more people require nursing home care, those places become larger and more impersonal. I believe this is a recipe for dementia.

I have painted a pretty bleak picture and we all know people who have stepped out of that flow and lived a meaningful life in their older years. The way people cope with the aging process is a personal choice. Many don’t know what else to do but be carried along with the flow. I don’t want to be in that number. I want to live until I die.

I want to feel that there is a purpose to my life, that I am doing something useful to others, even as I withdraw from the workforce. To accomplish that, I will need to maintain a healthy body, a healthy mind and a healthy heart.

To have a healthy body I need to keep physically active. That doesn’t happen naturally any more, it has to be a deliberate choice. Walking is the best way to keep active, it is low impact and stimulates the whole body. But where I live, for about half of the year it is not very inviting to go out for a walk. So I need a treadmill or a rebounder. Regular, vigorous exercise maintains the health of the heart, the lungs, and the brain.

Having a healthy mind also requires making the choice to exercise it. Doing puzzles and word games is one form of mental exercise, but that is not enough. To prevent my mind from becoming fossilized I need interaction with other people, especially people who do not see everything in exactly the way that I see it. That means children, youth, all ages, plus people of different backgrounds and different life experiences. I need to read books that stretch the mind and help me see the world from a new perspective.

Above all, I need a healthy heart, in the spiritual sense. To maintain the peace and joy of being a Christian also requires exercise. That includes reading and meditating on the Word of God, not just an assortment of favourite passages, but the whole thing, in order to get the whole picture of what God has to say. It includes prayer, not just for myself and my family, but for others — friends, acquaintances, those in authority and those who are not so friendly. That is a very healthy exercise, the more we pray for others, the harder it becomes to say nasty things about them.

As I become more serious about writing, I am challenged to convey my thoughts in a way that is provocative, informative, and sometimes humorous. I need to exercise myself to recognize and avoid trite statements, pat phrases and slogans that no one outside of my bubble will understand. Above all, I need to speak the truth in love, with compassion and without biting criticism.

As a writer, there are times when I need to be alone in my cave in order to get words onto paper. But in order to have words to write, to know what to write and how to write in a way that will interest somebody else, I need to get out of that cave and be with people, all kinds of people. I need to talk to people, listen to people, observe people. The best anti-aging treatment that I know of is people. People who jar my thinking out of its customary rut and help me see things and understand things I would not think of on my own.

The genius of French

Yesterday’s word from Mot du Jour, a French word of the day app, was adulescent. It is one letter short of adult, one vowel different from adolescent and describes a young adult who behaves like a teenager. Another word used in the description was quincados, which means people in their fifties who try to appear much younger. Ado is the French equivalent of teenager.

I have met people like that, haven’t you? It must be a hard life, always trying to avoid confronting the reality of who you really are.

At 76 I am still very much alive, but I am not young. Seventeen was a long time ago and I don’t wish to go back. I have lived all those years, I don’t regret any of them, at least not the lessons they have taught me, but I have no longing to relive them.

That quality of being at peace with who you are is described in French as being bien dans son peau, comfortable in one’s own skin. Mine has a few wrinkles, that’s just part of being 76.

About that beard on my face

Why did I ever decide to grow hair on my face?

The answer should be obvious – I didn’t. It grew all by itself, without any decision or effort on my part.

That brings up another question – Why do I leave it there? The best answer is the simplest one – I decided that if God made the hair to grow on my face it would probably be pleasing to Him if I let it be seen.

That was all there was to it. I didn’t engage in deep theological reflection when I made that decision. Neither did I find any command in the Bible that told me I had to wear a beard. There is no such command in the Bible. I believe the reason for that is that God doesn’t endow all men with the potential to grow hair on the face. Thus He must be OK with the fact that such men don’t have beards, and the rest of us should be too.

There are indications in the Bible, though, that it is a shame and a disgrace for a man who has a beard to have it removed. I don’t think that’s really a doctrinal proof of the need for a beard. Just another indication that it would be a good idea for me to let mine be seen.

I do trim my beard regularly. I don’t want to look like an old prospector who lives in a remote cabin and rarely show his face in public.

The hair on top of my head gets more sparse with the passing years. A barber tried to console me once by saying that we don’t really lose hair as we get older. It just starts to show up in different places – the eyebrows grow bushier, tufts of hair grow out of our ears and nostrils.

At least I think he was trying to console me. One might as well face the changes wrought by passing years with humour. My barber now trims my eyebrows every time I get a haircut. And I do my best to keep the ear and nose hairs trimmed back so they don’t become noticeable.

For the same reason, if a lady finds dark hairs growing on her chin, I believe it’s entirely permissible for her to take whatever measures are needed to make them disappear. In fact, I would highly recommend that she do that.

But I am quite OK with the hair growing on my face. I don’t let my beard grow too long, though. One of my granddaughters used to express an interest in trying to braid it. I thought it best to keep the beard short enough that braiding wouldn’t be possible.

Thoughts on growing old

  1. Winter isn’t much fun anymore.
  2. Neither are the really hot days of summer.
  3. Everything takes longer – even getting out of bed in the morning.
  4. It’s no longer a mystery how my Dad could take a nap after dinner.
  5. I’m more concerned that my shoes be comfortable than that they be fashionable.
  6. Some of the hair that used to grow on top of my head now grows out my ears and nostrils.
  7. I’ve lived long enough to see my daughter doing things that were ridiculous when her mother did them.
  8. I’ve had time to make enough mistakes that I no longer get so riled up about other people’s mistakes.
  9. My messy desk no longer seems cool.
  10. I don’t look forward to birthdays as much as I used to.

(Thoughts prompted by another birthday coming up in a few days and this post by Jnana Hodson )

Dementia

My mother wasn’t able to look after herself anymore and had come to live with us. One day a conversation with a visitor went like this:
—How old are you?
—What year is it?
—Two thousand and four
—Then I am ninety-six.

That was my mother; she couldn’t remember how old she was, but she wasn’t about to admit it so she answered with a question of her own. When she was given the year she instantly made the calculation in her head and gave the right answer.

My father’s dementia worked a little differently; he lived to be 86 but always told people he was 82. It seems that was how old he was when dementia took away his ability to connect with what was happening.

Some people become quite difficult as dementia sets in. They resent being told to put on clothes that they don’t recognize. The problem is that their mind has slipped back 50 years and the clothes they would recognize are long gone. Others may be just as confused about where they are and what is happening, yet they are sweetly thankful for every little act of kindness.

Some people eventually lose the ability to communicate. A familiar face, a familiar voice, may stir some sign of recognition, but they can’t quite grasp who it is they see and hear. There are those who seem altogether vacant, yet their eyes light up when a familiar hymn is sung. Sometimes they might even sing along, yet show no sign of remembering after the song  is finished. It is important for us to believe that there is still a person in that body, and even though they cannot reach out to us, they do know when we reach out to them by kind words and touches.

Some people seem immune to dementia. We visited a lady after she turned 100, she may have been a distant relative of my wife. She was bright and chipper, her hearing was good, her eyesight was good – she read a regular print Bible, had no difficulty walking. We visited her again several months later – she recognized us and remembered our names.

We met a man, a distant relative of mine, who was also over 100. He played billiards, drove his car to his country church every Sunday, pushed people in wheelchairs around the yard of the nursing home.

Both of these people had a positive outlook on life and were interested in other people. This leads me to some observations:

  • A self-centred person has a miserable life and seems to be more inclined to develop dementia, where he can make everybody around him miserable, too.
  • A person who is genuinely interested in others develops the ability to exercise their mind in following a multitude of paths his mind might not otherwise take and this may make him less apt to develop dementia.
  • A person who is genuinely thankful, and readily expresses that thankfulness will be a pleasant person to be around even if he develops dementia.

I know, these are totally unscientific conclusions and there are many other factors involved. Still, I think they are thoughts to bear in mind as I grow older so that I can cultivate the attitudes that will make life less difficult for those who may have to care for me if I ever develop dementia.

Juggling jobs

I am getting old, I call myself semi-retired, but it seems that I have more demands on my time than ever before, and I’m not at all sure that I’m managing my time wisely.

I am a bookkeeper: A large part of my income is pension, but I still have five bookkeeping clients that I need to work for on a regular basis.

I am a member of the French editing committee of our church. This doesn’t take up a lot of time, but it is enjoyable and useful work. And I do get some payment for the time spent.

I am a writer: Besides this blog, and another one in French, I have other writing projects that are really important to me, but it is hard to find time for them.

I am a father and grandfather: At this stage that may mostly mean being a cheerleader. That means being there, paying attention. I don’t think I’m doing a very good job of it.

I am a husband: My wife is going through chemo-therapy treatments for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. I go with her to almost all her appointments. The treatments have worked, there are no more symptoms, but she still needs two more rounds of chem to keep it away as long as possible. Meanwhile, she needs a lot of rest and her resistance is low. One side benefit of the chemo is that it has pretty much eliminated her arthritis pain. I’m sure that is only temporary.

Monday was our 46th anniversary. To celebrate, I took her to our nearest town where one of the vets and her husband were doing a barbecue to raise money for their non-profit pet rescue organization. So we both had a hot dog, a can of pop and a cookie. I thought it was a good deal, Chris didn’t have to cook or do dishes and the money went to a good cause.

Yesterday we went out for a more formal meal at the Cave Restaurant in Saskatoon.

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