3. We Slow as We Age, but May Not Need to Slow Too Much. Finally, some good news. Footnote. Last Thanksgiving I ran my first marathon in a long time. My time was only 5 minutes slower than my personal record from a decade earlier. Probably my greatest athletic performance ever. A legend in my own mind.
That’s how one pro football coach described the moment to his players right before game 9 of 16 this weekend. Hearing that, I thought it aptly described my present stage of life. Then again, life is fragile, so who knows, I could be a little or a lot closer to the End than I realize.
If it’s hard to figure out how to approach the End, it’s doubly hard when married because everyone thinks about the End a little, or a lot, differently. The Good Wife and I are thinking fairly differently about how to live at the beginning of the end. It would be a lot easier if she would start thinking more like me.
My daughters have early August birthdays, meaning more than turkey was cooking lo’ those many Thanksgivings ago. Four day weekend, frosty outside, fire burning inside, what do you expect?
J, now 20, is a fun and funny girl. The day before her birthday she proudly declared that she had now officially “avoided teen pregnancy”.
And a few days from now, a few blocks from Wrigley Field, A turns 23.
I’m proud of my daughters and love them dearly despite their making me feel old.
They’re a talented duo, especially skilled in reclamation projects. Through an interest in and feel for interior design, and lots of paint, A has transformed her utilitarian Chicago apartment into a nice home.
And through practice and steadily increasing technical know-how, J can wield her camera to transform almost any subject, no matter how ghastly into something nearly tolerable. For example.
Emily Oster’s findings in the fitness essay I included in the previous post rest on the following premise—people exercise to lengthen their lives. I run, swim, and cycle quite a bit further and faster than the research says I should because I enjoy pushing myself. And as far as I know the research doesn’t answer this question: Are the costs of more extreme fitness habits lessened when one increases the volume and intensity of their activities over many years? My gut tells me yes. My gut also tells me cross training lessens the costs.
But I’m okay being wrong because I don’t care if I live to 100. The more familiar I get with the 80’s and 90’s, the more inclined I am to trade quality of life for quantity. Which leads to how to age.
There are two approaches, but I don’t know which is better. The first is to remind oneself on a daily basis that you’ll never be younger than you are at this very instance. Meaning carpe diem. Live with urgency. Do the iron-distance triathlon now because it’s going to be even harder in a few years. Travel the world now because it’s going to be harder in a few years. Hike the Wonderland Trail or the Camino de Santiago before hiking to the mailbox is all you can manage.
The alternative is to accept the inevitability of physical decline and embrace life’s limits. Reject “Bucket List” mania. Live more simply. Slow down, travel less, invest more in friendships. Find joy in daily routines. Watch nature. Enjoy coffee, food, and drink. Go gently into the future.
I don’t know. It’s been almost four months since my mom died. And this week, another gut punch via telephone. This time it was news that my wife’s former campus pastor who through three decades of friendship became a second, spiritual father of sorts to her, had died.
We are especially fortunate to have a foundation of friendship at times like this. After listening to and empathizing with my wife, she asked how I was adjusting to my mom’s death.
I told her I’m failing miserably at striking any kind of balance because it seems like I can either regularly stop and think about the permanence of my loss and be overcome with sadness or succumb to avoidance by filling my day with activities that distract me from thinking about her passing almost entirely. There has to be a large middle ground, I just haven’t found it.
Meanwhile, last Wednesday night I was sitting alone at an outside table at Vic’s Pizza while my wife went to the bathroom and gathered silverware and napkins. A three year-old boy at the table right next to me sized me up and then pointed right at me and said to his mom, “Does he have a mommy?” “Don’t point,” she curtly replied. When my wife joined me a few minutes later, he said to his mom, “He does have a mommy.”
Carol Byrnes and JSwanson would’ve laughed heartily at that and I love the image of them laughing together even though they didn’t know each other.
Besides a lighthearted story, I have one grief-related insight to share. More accurately, I have one end-of-life-related insight from Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward: a Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. “Death,” Rohr writes, “is largely a threat to those who have not yet lived their life.”
Carol Byrnes and JSwanson lived full lives. May you and I do the same.
I am. Came to that conclusion the other day while mowing my lawn for the first time since late last fall when it was largely leaves.
As I criss-crossed the lawn, I wondered, what on earth am I doing? Why do we even have a lawn? Best I can tell, there’s three reasons to have a lawn. First, we have lawns to occasionally play croquet or badminton on or in Tiger’s case, to learn to chip. Second, many of us have lawns because we grew up in suburbia meaning we are captives of our childhoods. An extremely difficult to shake lawn aesthetic is deeply ingrained in our subconscious. So deeply ingrained we hardly ever question it. Third, we have lawns because the alternative, more public parks near where we live smacks of socialism.
Lawn lunacy is largely explained by nostalgia for our past coupled with an insidious individualism.
Maybe ten percent of lawns make sense. Meaning children play on them semi-regularly or people get great satisfaction from tending them. For people like us whose children are Gone Girl, lawns make zero sense. Especially when I’m thinking what I could be doing instead of pacing back and forth contributing to global warming, thus making it so I have to mow earlier and more often seemingly every year.
It’s completely whacked, by which I mean I’m whacked. As irrational as Paul McCartney’s hair as seen on SNL’s 40th ann. I felt sorry for “Sir” Paul. Not a gray hair on his 72 year old head. How sad to feel you have to maintain a youthful image that late in life. If I make it to 72, not giving a shit about my (probably amazing) appearance will be the most silver of linings. That and living somewhere without a lawn.