My wife and I have hearing problems, and our conversations can become the basis for a sit-com on aging. I was rummaging around in a kitchen cabinet while Wendy was in the living room. “Is that old wok under here?” I asked. Wendy came into the kitchen looking bewildered. “Why do you think something’s wrong with my underwear?”
When we realized her answer had nothing to do with my question, we both laughed hysterically. We laughed because our hearing problems injected humor into our lives. But what if I became angry because I thought my wife wasn’t listening to me? Or I became angry—at no one in particular—because I viewed my hearing difficulty as just another indignity of growing older?
And what if I did that not only with hearing, but also with vision, physical abilities, awareness, attention, and even cognition? If I did, I would be no different than millions of other older people who become miserable resisting the inevitability of aging.
Actually, I was one of those millions until I came to understand aging, whether you’re 30 or 70, is analogous to being caught in a riptide—both are ultimately beyond our control. People who survive riptides do it by not fighting the current, but rather swimming across it.
Aging, just like riptides defies struggle. Ointments, creams, exercise, and Viagra can slow it down, but eventually we all grow old. Successful aging, I believe, involves more of an “adjustment” rather than an acceptance of diminished abilities.
At 69 I’ve come to realize my driving isn’t as sharp as it was at 25. I assume my reaction times will be slower than most of the people driving around me, so I don’t speed anymore. I can’t run as fast or as long as I did when I was 35 and ran marathons, but I find a leisurely jog around the lake to be joyful.
Backpacking alone in the wilderness when I was 40 will never happen again with arthritic hips, but I can spend 10 days with friends hiking from one established camp to another with mules carrying our supplies.
It is adjustment, not determination, or “giving up” that is the key to successful aging. And who cares what I say about my wife’s underwear?
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