Staying Alive -by Clay Carger

Each year makes me more aware of distinct choices for living with aging.  One choice is to welcome the inertia of reduced energy and meager responsibility:  Make no non-medical commitments that can’t be easily broken, avoid engaging in reading or interacting with anything or anyone that is mentally challenging, make exercise a matter easily dismissed, disengage from issues beyond my constricted circle of activity, ignore activities that excited me in the past, rationalize and excuse indulgences, become gradually more secluded except for being merely a spectator.  In this mode, lethargy spreads like spilled syrup on a pantry shelf: invasive and hard to get rid of; the mind and body become dull and sluggish.

Another response to aging is to keep adapting so that my essential self is not lost. Not just living until I die, but staying lively till I die. This is where meaning-purpose is relevant.  Meaning-purpose energizes. (I use the hyphenated term to suggest a connection like two sides of the same coin.  For many of us, “meaning” connotes static essence, while “purpose” connotes action. Think of the one term as the blend of two aspects.)  

Aging often moves us beyond roles in which we found satisfying meaning-purpose. Sometimes it is retirement from important work, or children growing beyond the need for care, or physical decline, or loss of access to people in whose company we most liked ourselves, or…you have your own list. The changes affect not only our external routines, but also the way we see ourselves and relate to ourselves.  

How to regain the sense of being alive? We think of times when we were fully engaged in an activity that we could do well, that we enjoyed, that resulted in something we wanted to happen, that fitted with who we are. Then we remember how it felt: fullness of energy, ability to think what came next, alive! 

Next, we tease out all the skills and attributes that we expressed in doing what made us feel alive. We may notice instincts for mentoring, or being a catalyst for productivity, or nurturing cooperation between antagonists, or engendering camaraderie among mere acquaintances, or problem solving, or having empathy, or organizing people to do complicated tasks, or encouraging love for excellence, or sharing resources, or seeing new solutions, or giving hopeful perspective; the list is longer than my imagination.  We may be surprised at the complexity and range of what we know how to do with excellence.

The next step: look for a place to express the essential self.  This can be difficult in a culture that pays closest attention to youthfulness.  However, we keep in mind that all the wisdom and skill we possess is something sorely needed somewhere by someone.  When we get frustrated or confused or disrespected, we pause and remember the energy and satisfaction of our best moments. We try again.  We find places to live out who we are to the fullest.  We find ourselves staying alive.

Clay+2018.jpg

As a minister, family therapist, and addiction therapist, Clay conducted groups for over two decades designed to facilitate positive change in attitude and behavior.  In 2008 Clay published a book entitled Older, Wiser…HAPPIER: 10 Choices for Rebooting Your Life at 50+.  He has used the book as a text for more than twenty pro bono multi-session workshops in senior centers, churches, and libraries for groups who wanted to address issues related to aging. Since his retirement to Loveland in 2012, Clay has continued his pro bono senior project in local area senior centers and churches. 

FROM AGE-ING TO SAGE-ING IN THREE ACTS -by Richard Thompson

Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi’s 1995 book, From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Revolutionary Approach to Growing Older, has proved so helpful to so many since then as to have become part of a movement across the county. It describes a process which might be described as occurring in three acts, based on the fact that while everyone ages, not everyone sages. 

Act One:  Deepening One’s Spirituality                 

Some might think this development is like the grandchild, when observing her grandmother reading the Bible more often, asked, ‘Nana, are you cramming for the finals?” Rather the Rabbi defines spirituality as ‘expanding one’s consciousness.” Certainly, anyone of any age who becomes increasingly aware of his or her awareness grows wiser.   

Act Two:  Preparing One’s Life Review 

The Rabbi describes this part of the process by asking the question, ‘Have you been saved?’ By that he means doing so electronically – by writing your story, and/or reflections upon its meaning, then saving it on the computer or speaking it into a recorder, as part of your legacy.

Act Three: (in two scenes) Dealing with Life and Death Matters

The life scene has to do with taking care of your health and being realistic about your physical limitations. This attitude was suggested by a doctor who advised a newly retired couple, ‘Get your travels done before you turn eighty, because then the wheels begin to come off!”

The death scene is suggested by the title of Margie Jenkins’ book, You Only Die Once. That fact suggests that we do what we can to spare our survivors unnecessary grief by having our affairs in order – from preparing a will, and perhaps a living will, to providing a list of those to be notified, with contact information, along with user name/passwords of agencies and businesses which need to notified. 

Also it is fitting to prepare a draft of one’s own obituary, as a way of indicating what one would want to be remembered for. A written description of what Jenkins calls “your going away party,” i.e. your preferences for a memorial service’s participants and setting, as well as a reception afterwards, is in order. 

Finally, Psalm 90, verse 12, sums up the sage-ing process as a whole, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” 

Rich & Jane Thompson.jpeg
 

Rich Thompson is a retired Presbyterian minister and past president of the Fort Collins Interfaith Council. He recently retired from the board of Faith Family Hospitality. He is married to Jane, a retired school librarian active in the League of Women Voters.

Adventure, Part One -by Wes Rutt

Wes&Nicki.JPG

There are surely lots of ways to age gracefully. I have chosen to continue a practice that I started when I was young.  Although age has necessitated some modification, it continues to provide me with new friends, interesting learning opportunities, and frequently some pretty exciting adventure.

Before I was old enough to legally drive, my brother and I tore down, rebuilt and started riding motorcycles. I immediately became hooked on having wind in my hair and bugs in my teeth. My mother did not openly object to my newly acquired passion but made it clear that wind and bugs would only take me so far in life. She strongly suggested that I supplement that with a little additional education. So, for some years, I traded in my motorcycle for colleg

While in school I met Nicki, who has turned out to be my perfect companion and partner for a little more than 50 years now. We might have settled down and led a normal, contented and happily-ever-after life together. But she loved wind and bugs too.

Before the ink on our marriage certificate was dry we were planning adventures together. Since we both were born and grew up in the Midwest, our first trip had to be somewhat farther afield. So we flew to London, bought a motorcycle at a local shop and rode over 6,000 miles before returning home. Every day was an adventure. With the challenge of remembering which side of the road to ride on, we proceeded to ride our motorcycle through the Alps and even through a busy train station, among many other first-time experiences. We never planned more than one day ahead. We made many friends along the way, and we still stay in touch with some of them almost fifty years later.

There have been more trips since then. We traveled through the South right after the movie Easy Rider came out. One little motel in Georgia refused to accommodate motorcycle riders.

Once a local in an old pickup with his deer rifle in the back window drove up very close to me in a parking lot and stared at me. I tried to remember what had happened to Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in the movie. However, friends were made on that trip too.

One year we both found ourselves in jobs we didn’t care for, so we rode from Chicago to Oregon while stopping at all the national parks along the way. On one memorable night a bear stole our food pack from the table at our campsite. We unzipped the tent to confront the intruder and then decided to just go ahead and share our food with a new friend. We don’t really stay in touch with the bear, but for years we displayed the canvas food pack that he had opened with one sharp claw down the side.

On the same trip we flew to Australia where we worked out a deal with a local shop to sell us a used bike and then buy it back from us after we rode it for a month. We camped in an isolated park one night and experienced a wind storm which blew over our tent to the accompaniment of maniacal laughter outside. We lived through that and made still more friends on that trip.

As we got older our trips became shorter but just as much fun. Then in 2012, while I had the bike apart in our barn, the High Park Fire hit us. The barn was destroyed as was our faithful ride. We had many other things to think about at the time so we decided not to replace the bike.

To be continued...

Wes Rutt.jpg
 

Wes Rutt is a runner, biker, and woodcutter who spends his free time as the Outreach and Education Chair for the Colorado Tree Farmers. Watch the YouTube video of his “Motorcycle Trip #1 - Laporte Loop” with his commentary on the history of the area.

 

The Kitchen Table -by Verley Boulton

When I was growing up, the kitchen table served as a place for a quick
breakfast before everyone engaged in their daily routines. When we all left,
no matter what the weather, Mother opened the window in our little
breakfast room as well as the kitchen door and aired out the smoke from my
father's luxury of the day, a cigarette smoked in quiet comfort after he had
cooked breakfast. Mother kept an immaculate house, so she was dust-
mopping the dining room and kitchen floors while Dad cooked, No one
would catch her with crumbs on her floor. In the late 1940's style, this
linoleum was dark red and, much to my mother's disappointment, it showed
every speck of dust that came in from the yard. Conversations at this table
were hurried and  just used to keep the family calendar intact. 

The table that was the centerpiece of our home was in the dining room. It
was an oak treasure that my mother had purchased second hand, but it was
new to her, and we were never allowed to rest our feet on any of the four
legs that balanced the lovely oak top. There were usually two boards added
so all seven of us could sit comfortably and there would be plenty of room to
do homework after the evening meal. I was fairly well educated by the time
I started school as this was where assignments were read and discussed, and
math problems were solved. Everyone was involved in getting the right
answers to any question that came up. 

Mother cooked a huge meal by noon on Sunday; this was our family
time. Dad, who often worked away during the week, was always home then, and
great discussions would sometimes last until three or four 0' clock in the
afternoon. There was no question about whether our parents knew what was
going on in our lives. 

As my older siblings left home, Sunday afternoon family time was the thing
I missed most, as I was home by myself for my high school years. My
brother inherited the table, chairs and buffet when we emptied my parents’
home. My niece bought the set when my brother died, and we still sit
around the table in her kitchen when we visit her home in Denver. 

Verley Boulton.jpg

Verley Boulton moved from South Dakota to western Colorado at age 10. She received an accounting degree from Barnes School of Commerce inDenver and worked as a financial analyst for 25 years at Teledyne Water Pik.She revisited the kitchen table in her niece's AirB&B in Tucson in October



Renewal by Grandson

grandson pic.jpg
 

Our 5-year-old grandson learned to ride a pedal bike last night!  For months he had resisted trying, saying he would learn when he was older.  Last night, for whatever reason, he valiantly confronted his fears on the back patio when no one was watching.  With success in his back pocket, he excitedly announced it to all.

I, his Gigi, got to follow him, soon after, on a bike ride around the neighborhood and onto part of the paved trail nearby.  Although my main function was to keep him safe and help him find the way, I began to realize that this exuberant little bike rider had a few things to teach me.

The plan was for him to stay on the sidewalks in the neighborhood, then go a short distance on the bike trail, with me following on my bike.  He wobbled around the first sidewalk corner and immediately almost rear ended a parked truck!  But luckily my “shout out” alerted him in time. He quickly maneuvered back to the sidewalk.  Lesson:  When life plants an unexpected “parked truck” in your way, listen to the warnings, then get back on track and keep going. 

Next came a house whose front yard is filled willy nilly with various garden art, knick-knacky animal sculptures, and lots of weeds. He stopped to admire it all, declaring he’d like to live in a house like that someday.   Lesson:  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

As we rounded the next corner onto a cul-de-sac he slowed down to watch young rabbits hopping through the yards.  He sees rabbits every day, as they are as ubiquitous as kids on a playground.  Even so, he was fascinated.  Lesson: Don’t stop observing the commonplace just because it is commonplace. 

He continued wobbling, the handle bars moving left and right as though steering through an obstacle course.  The result was an up and down, back and forth between the sidewalk, with its slanted edge, and the street.  I daresay my distracted mind wobbles through my daily activities.  Staying focused and mindful takes practice.

Once on the bike trail, it wasn’t long before he came to an abrupt halt (dragging his feet to stop until he learns how to brake). He looked over at the abundant cattails growing in the marsh.  “Are those cattails?  I’ve never seen real cattails! Those are cool.”  As I looked at them through his eyes, I wondered if I still allow myself to feel the awe and excitement of new discoveries. 

As we proceeded over a wooden plank bridge, he suddenly jumped off his bike, leaving it in the middle of the bridge, and shouted out, “Did you see that snake?”  Well, no, I hadn’t, but I was cautiously alarmed by this pronouncement.  He leaned over, peering into the half-inch gaps between the boards. I peered, too, but saw nothing.  “There is a real snake down there under the boards.  It’s not a gardener snake.  It has a black mouth!”  Fortunately it was not showing itself for which I silently gave thanks and marveled at his good imagination.   The lesson here is that there are many “snakes” of all kinds in life.  You just have to be able to spot them in the cracks, and “call a snake a snake.”  Oh, and hope it’s just your imagination.

It was a pretty long ride for a little guy, but when we got back to the slanted driveway, he didn’t walk the bike up.  He summoned his strength and rode right up it to the garage door, announcing his accomplishment to all.  Even when he was tired, he pushed through to the end.  I’m sure some of that strength came from his pride, excitement, and enthusiasm with his new accomplishment.  

As an aging grandma, I can learn that I don’t need to “get off my bike” or slow down until I’m ready.  I can give life that extra push, fueled by the wonder and joy of each new day.  Renewal through grandson! 

jeanchristen-med.jpg

Jean Christen is a retired elementary teacher who indulges her passion for children by telling stories to 2nd graders and babysitting her grandson.  Originally from the Midwest, she put down roots in Fort Collins after a stint in the Peace Corps and graduate work at UNC in Greeley (CO).  In retirement she has begun writing vignettes about her life to pass down to her children and grandchildren.  She lives in Fort Collins with her husband, and together they enjoy family, volunteering, and traveling the world.