Staying Alive -by Clay Carter

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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.

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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+.  Since his retirement to Loveland in 2012, Clay has continued to provide pro bono workshops on aging issues. 

Thoughts on Turning 82 - by Barbara Fleming

When I was in my twenties, many decades ago, I envisioned my future through rose-colored glasses: I would return to school, earn graduate degrees, join the hallowed world of academia as a distinguished professor, and in my spare time write stories and give time and energy to causes I espoused. My offspring would become successful professionals;  in the fullness of time I would have grandchildren nearby to enjoy. The years stretched ahead of me full of promise and hope.

However, along the path to that shining time life got in the way. Nothing happened quite as I had imagined it would.  I ended one bad marriage and began a good one, had a career as a teacher but not the one I had pictured, became a grandmother  (to my joy) to two young girls living on the other side of the country, and only late in life achieved success as a writer. Along the way I experienced setbacks both physical and emotional, loss, sorrow and disappointment, as well as happiness, fulfilment, love and contentment. 

Now here I am, turning 82 this month and wondering where the years went.  Now I take each day as it comes. Now I look back not with regret but with pleasure, choosing to remember the good times and the lessons I learned from missteps I made, forgiving those who hurt me and hoping those I hurt have done the same. Now, having made necessary preparations, I think not about the end of life but about the dailiness of it, the breathtaking beauty of the world around me, and the pleasures of simply being alive. 

Over the years, I learned more about myself and about human nature. Here is some of what I learned:

  • The most important part of being alive is giving and receiving love, a warm blanket that enables us to get through the days.
  • No one is flawless; we are all imperfect. The secret to successful relationships is choosing what imperfections we can abide—ours and those of loved ones. We may strive to improve, but we will never attain complete success, and that is all right, it’s part of what makes us human.
  • Relationships only work when both parties invest in them, sharing time, openness, honesty and fairness, but most of all respect.
  • Hatred is a damaging emotion, not worth nurturing. There are and have been monstrous people in the world, but hating them only hurts the one who hates. For me, a far better response is indifference, or dislike, sometimes abhorrence, but not hate. Hating intensely might even shorten one’s life.
  • The vast majority of people are good at heart. They mean well, they wish no one harm, they live their lives as well as they can, and they interact with others without hostility. Sometimes, people are rude, selfish, thoughtless or unkind; sometimes, people are stingy, critical or crass, but they really don’t want to be that way all the time. I find it useful to start by seeking the good in people; it’s usually there somewhere. I certainly don’t love everybody unconditionally, but I try to approach individuals one at a time rather than as someone belonging to a certain segment of
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Barbara Fleming is a local author and editor. Her most recent book, Hidden History of Fort Collins, is available at local bookstores and on Amazon.com. You can visit her at her website  https://www.authorbarbarafleming.com

Greetings from the Graceful Aging Blog team

We hope this season finds you busily preparing for the upcoming holiday festivities, planning to be among friends and family, and successfully wending your way through the maze of shopping, wrapping and packaging. Christmas is a time for traditions; we all have some special ones to observe or remember. Our team hopes that your traditions enrich and comfort you. But a new year is on the horizon, and we wish to keep our Graceful Aging blog going strong in 2018. Even if you have submitted a piece before, we invite you to share with our readers your personal experiences with aging, be they fulfilling or otherwise.  These stories help connect us with each other and ease our way through the aging process. You do not need to be a polished writer to submit an article; you only need to be willing to share your story with others. Check the blog archive for examples of previous submissions. 

We hope this season finds you busily preparing for the upcoming holiday festivities, planning to be among friends and family, and successfully wending your way through the maze of shopping, wrapping and packaging. Christmas is a time for traditions; we all have some special ones to observe or remember. Our team hopes that your traditions enrich and comfort you.

But a new year is on the horizon, and we wish to keep our Graceful Aging blog going strong in 2018. Even if you have submitted a piece before, we invite you to share with our readers your personal experiences with aging, be they fulfilling or otherwise.  These stories help connect us with each other and ease our way through the aging process. You do not need to be a polished writer to submit an article; you only need to be willing to share your story with others. Check the blog archive for examples of previous submissions.