On Turning 78: Aging Somewhat Gracefully

Today on my 78th birthday, I’m remembering that saying from the Sixties: Don’t trust anybody over 80. Oh, it was 30, not 80? Hmm, maybe my memory’s not what it once was.

Gracelyn & me

Sure, my hair is gray. I’ve lost one-and-a-half inches in height, down to an even six-feet. My benign enlarged prostate requires an awareness of the nearest restroom at all times (Luckily my home office is five steps from the bathroom.). I seem to be bumping into stuff and knocking things over more, including, regretfully, a full bottle of Highland Oatmeal Porter the other night. If I were to shoot you a bird with my right hand you’d probably think it was directed to the person next to you. Middle finger that lists to the left, an old handball injury. What’s that you say? Would you mind repeating it? I didn’t quite catch all of it.

A recent conversation between me and my ten-year-old daughter Gracelyn:

Me: “What’s the best thing about having an older dad?”
Gracelyn: “I can whisper to Mom and you can’t hear me.”
Me: “What the worst thing about having an older dad?”
Gracelyn: “When I whisper to you, you can’t hear me.”

Nonetheless, I still consider myself fairly youthful. In fact, not long ago I ran for more than four hours in the arduous Shut-In Ridge Trail Race, right? And only yesterday a younger woman gazed at me rather alluringly. What’s more, when I work all day Saturday in the garden, I can still whoop it up that night. Yikes, you say that was twenty years ago? Time really does fly when you’re having a good time!

OK, OK, so the physical losses are real, and I’m showing my age more than I’m sometimes willing to admit. But I haven’t retired to the rocking chair yet. I weigh five pounds less that I did when I was a senior in high school (though my waist has expanded a couple of inches). I take no medications whatsoever. While my sex drive is not what it was when I was in my twenties (Thank god!), it’s still alive and kicking. And I continue to play a pretty decent game of handball and go on trail runs on the Mountains To Sea Trail.

Shonnie & me preparing to hit the Shut-In Trail in 1999

But besides my own physical and perceptual deficits, at this stage of life other losses escalate. Asheville is changing from the funky little city we moved to in 1997—gentrification, overdevelopment, traffic jams, hordes of tourists year-round (many without masks). My liberal parents rolled in their graves when my sister and her adult children joined the mob outside our nation’s capitol on January 6. Old drinking pals from my former life continue to fade into the background. My minister Howard Hanger, who married Shonnie and me and baptized Gracelyn, has retired after a glorious and joyful thirty-year run. The handball crowd at the Y has dwindled—injuries, aging, and relocations. My dad passed away in 1996 and my mom and Shonnie’s dad Bob in 2013. Sharon Parish, Ken Kinnett, Bob Todd, Harry Nelson, and other dear friends have all exited the earthly realm, while other friends near my age are confronting dementia, disease, and physical infirmity.

At this point It would be easy for me to declare that my race has been run, that I can sit back, relax, and disengage from the chaos, the injustice, the ravaging of our planet, the suffering of many of our fellow humans and other species. Take to the chaise lounge on the front porch and watch the world go by. But in the sage words of Bob Dylan, he not busy being born is busy dying.

So what does that mean for me? It means continuing to unearth my limiting beliefs and replacing them with the truth about myself, others, and life. It means continuing my spiritual practices—breath work, meditation, tapping/EFT, time in the wilderness. It means refusing to take personally the slings and arrows that sometimes come my way. It means releasing relationships that no longer serve who I’ve become and nurturing the connections with those who love and support me just as I am. It means making amends with those toward whom I’ve been disrespectful or unloving, forgiving those who have behaved toward me in that manner, and forgiving myself for my past transgressions. It means cleaning up my personal space as I go, dealing with disagreements or disconnections in the moment or as soon thereafter as possible. It means supporting those around me, especially Shonnie and Gracelyn, to live authentically and to share their greatest gifts with the world. It means remembering we’re all connected—all humankind, all living entities, all of creation. It means continuing to live my life’s purpose—to give my all to create a more compassionate, just, and sustainable world, realizing that I can’t do it all, but that I can do my part.

In the words of Hunter Thompson: Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a ride!”

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