An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘aging’

Aged to Perfection

My younger brother introduced me to a collection of Ray Bradbury’s short stories back in the ‘60s and I became an instant fan. When I taught junior high English classes, of course I found Bradbury’s short stories in most anthologies. “There Will Come Soft Rains” about nature restoring cities where the people have been destroyed, presumably by nuclear warfare, was a special favorite.

I loved teaching ninth graders Bradbury’s dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451. It made its way onto the district’s approved list before the current fundamentalist trend sent the morality police checking books for blasphemous terms like, “Oh God!” Unlike the tacky YA novels currently approved by parent committees, Fahrenheit  encouraged my students to think.

Ray Bradbury died June 5 at age 91. The PBS NewsHour  showed clips of interviews with Bradbury. I enjoyed the interview from the ‘70s when Bradbury was a robust, middle-aged man. The recent interview, with Bradbury’s face and neck bloated from the effects of an age-impaired body, troubled me. His altered appearance reminded me that my own once firm body is losing the battle with gravity. Why would he let himself be filmed when he looked so bad?

Listening to Bradbury’s interview, I realized that although his body was impaired, his brain was not. He answered each question thoughtfully, giving insight into how and why he wrote. My more mushy brain had been focused on Bradbury’s puffy body rather than on the beauty of his spirit weathered by years of experience and wisdom.

I realized that what Bradbury had left—a brilliant mind and wisdom from a long lifetime of experiences—far outweighed a body surrendering to time’s ravages.

The human body does not age to perfection, but the human spirit can.

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After I’ve Gone

 

My friend Edith inherited her parents’ house, a 1940s showplace in its day. The house has been mostly empty for 30 years, but Edith can’t bring herself to part with it and its memories. She plans to leave it to a daughter rather than having it sold and the money divided. “Better ask your daughter if she wants it,” a friend counseled. And rightly so. The house and grounds require a lot of upkeep and the kitchen, built for a servant, has the inviting spaciousness of a TWA airliner galley. Edith’s daughter probably lacks her mother’s attachment to the place.

 

A few days ago, a neighbor mentioned the shock of driving by a deceased friend’s house to see a dumpster and a Deseret Industries truck parked in front. “My children better not do that with my things,” my neighbor said. But they will. With few exceptions, the worldly goods we worked and sacrificed to obtain—the treasures we packed and lugged on moves and spent our time cleaning and polishing—haven’t the same meaning for our children. Objects will be discarded. Houses will be sold, and the money used to buy their own treasures which their children will eventually toss into a D-I or Goodwill bin.

 

It’s tough to realize we are mortal. Our lives will end while the lives of our loved ones continue. They will remember us, but think of us less and less frequently as the calendar pages turn. My mother died 60 years ago; few people who knew her remain alive.

 

We don’t like to think of ourselves dying—our lives erased by time. One function of religion is to soften the blow of obliteration. Mormonism is especially strong in this regard. We do genealogy—collect information on ancestors, record family histories, write our own memories—and alleviate the fear of being forgotten. Harmless activities—unless nostalgia for the past and hope for the future crowd out the present.

 

 

 

In the Dark of December

I heard a bird sing in the dark of December . . . . “We are nearer to Spring/Than we were in September.” Although the mind comprehends the seasonal cycle, the spirit does not. As light steadily decreases day by day in December, the human soul fights the darkness into which the earth descends with holidays of food, music, light, gatherings of fellow beings.

Finally the solstice arrives—the earth begins tilting back toward the sun and light lengthens each day. Cold persists, but hope arises, fed by earlier dawns and later sunsets—if only by seconds at first.

Everything on earth dies—even mountains crumble. Only the solar cycles and the waves of the sea repeat endlessly. Finite human minds yearn to be eternal. As we descend into later years, we struggle against the ravages of age. Religion comforts us when loved ones lose the battle with mortality. They have been renewed in a better place—but no such hope accompanies our own demise.

Blind and locked in dementia, 86-year-old Aunt Loosy fights to stay alive—fearing that if she lies down and closes her sightless eyes, she will not awaken. She fights to go home—not to a heaven where loved ones await her, but to her old house with a body renewed for another season of light and work. Neither modern medicine nor religion offers her that hope. Like Dylan Thomas, Aunt Loosy refuses to “go gentle into that good night.” She continues raging “against the dying of the light.” Birds sing in December and the human heart takes joy even as light and energy decrease—but the human body is not on a seasonal cycle. For us, the dying of the light is permanent. Spring will not always come—at least not as we have known it.

Mirror Image

Yesterday I tipped my hairstylist lavishly after seeing how my new hair style took ten years from my face. My euphoria lasted until I got home and checked out my hairstyle in the mirror. Those ten years had smashed back with a vengeance. How could I have looked so wonderful in the beauty shop and so dismal at home? Since I couldn’t possibly age that fast, the difference must be in the mirror—and possibly the lighting. It does make sense for beauty shops to have mirrors and lighting to make their clients look good. I just wish I knew where they bought them.

Although my bathroom mirror doesn’t flatter me, at least it doesn’t reveal what the mirror at the local gym does—displaying my saggy butt, baggy boobs, and bulgy belly for all to see. But in the Silver Sneakers class, all do not see. They’re too busy scanning and despising their own pitiful physiques to notice mine.

Wrath–the Righteous Deadly Sin

I think I’ve figured out the appeal of the Tea Party and rabid talk show hosts to the over-50 crowd. One side effect of aging is a flattening out of emotions. Nothing is as exciting nor as devastating as it would have been 20 or 30 years ago. Some seniors welcome the freedom from the emotional roller coaster of the seven deadly sins—lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. Others mourn the loss of passion—especially lust—which aging bodies just refuse to accommodate. Aging digestive tracts also react poorly to gluttony. Finances may limit participation in greed. Baggy butts, bellies, and boobs, not to mention multiple, saggy chins, destroy pride. Envy is such a negative. Who would admit to that? Sloth, we have, but excuse it as an effect of age and/or medications. And emotions like fear, sorrow and despair are just no fun, so that leaves wrath.  

Anger can really get the corpuscles jumping and infuse a senior with the vigor of youth. And righteous anger is a positive—a necessity in the war between good and evil. Even Jesus expressed wrath as he chased the money changers from the temple. No wonder talk show hosts and cable news anchors make mega-millions. They have a huge, over-the-hill audience needing to have their emotions frothed to the point of feeling alive again, but below the point of doing something illegal, immoral or against doctors’ orders.

The dividing line between righteous anger and sinful anger, of course, is being sure you’re on the right side. Then anyone disagreeing with you is an enemy who deserves a vicious put-down. And how to tell if you’re on the right side? Find a media source who agrees with you such as Glenn Beck, on the right, or Keith Olbermann, on the left. They will not only tell you which social and political issues and persons to rail against, they will supply you with pet phrases to use when talking to those #@%#@ liberals or conservatives with different opinions.  And being an obnoxious, angry senior citizen is risk-free. Geezers, like Spotted Owls, are a protected species. Socking even the most provoking old codger is a hate crime.

Get Ready, Get Set, Get Old

 “What is a good thing about getting older?” my daughter asked several years ago while doing research for a sociology class.

“Nothing!” I retorted. My life stunk in my 50s and I wasn’t even to the prune juice and Depends stage. I looked terrible—weight piled on as I snacked through Costco-sized bags of corn chips and secret stashes of Twinkies— seeking energy to sustain me while teaching 200 junior high kids all day, taking master’s classes at night, fulfilling church callings, dealing with our last two kids who refused to grow up, and spending time with an aging father. I felt terrible. No energy, no time to exercise, in bed too late, up too early, never a moment to myself. My dad’s physical decline was my future.

Fifteen years later, I love life. What made the difference? A monthly pension and Social Security freed me from the grind of laboring 50 hours a week to instill a love of learning into the cement-block heads of 9th graders. Also, our two youngest grew up and became responsible citizens in the interval.

My Mormon work ethic kept me teaching part time for a few years after retirement—first with a charter school, then teaching freshmen comp at a state university. But part time work in a congenial atmosphere is more pleasure than pressure. After decades of racing like a hamster on a wheel, I now had free time. Time to stretch my body into better shape with yoga. Time to stretch my spirit into better shape with meditation. Time to stretch my mind with reading and writing.

George’s near brush with death jolted us both into recognizing how fragile mortality is. Cleaning up the kitchen together after supper is a pleasure compared with the thought of being alone for meals—or not being here at all. So nice to close my finger in a book and walk into the next room to share a meaningful passage with George. Even the click of the TV as he settles in to watch NCIS on Tuesday evenings strikes a comforting note. A note I muffle with a shut door as the volume soars.

I used to pity my dad sitting alone. Now I’ve learned that one of the blessings of the body slowing down is the time it gives the mind for reflection—at least until cognitive impairment kicks in. Knowing that most of my life is past has reset my priorities. Surprisingly, my earlier plans for this time of life—a mission, temple work, genealogy—now hold no interest. But my interest in writing, which I’d shelved for four decades of teaching and mothering, has resurfaced as I’ve found new friends with similar interests.

Retired people set their clocks at a slower pace than working people. We no longer dash around trying to fit 30 hours into each 24. We don’t have to impress anyone. We’ve earned the freedom to associate with those of common interests.   Age has definite drawbacks—leaky bladders, stuffed bowels, but the leisurely pace compensates—at least while we have reasonable health and income. Dementia ahead? Not to worry. That’s payback to the youngest two kids who stressed out our earlier years.

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