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Thursday, November 05, 2009

"Only 72" - a little perspective

A woman came to my office today to talk about her neice.

"She's developed a rare form of Parkinson's disease. It's in her hands now but will be spreading fast. If you have a moment, will you pray for her? She's only 72."

That's right: "Only 72."

You see, the woman who came to my office (the woman with Parkinson's aunt) is 93. She's an active member of Rotary, her Church, and life in the retirement community where I work. She doesn't drive anymore, but she gets around like no one's business.

To her, 72 is a spring chicken.

We have nine people who live here who are over 100 years old - their average age is 102 and five months. When I'm not being pastor (at the moment), knowing these old folks gives me a different view of the world. It gives me hope.

There are 92 people who live here who are over 90 years old. Far and away most of them are in good health, living mostly independently. In fact, seven of them live in our on-campus condominiums, completely independent.

The fact that I work around so many people who are so full of health for so many years has given me a few perspectives on my own health and happiness.

First, I need to quit worrying about so much. The other day I was with a 102 year old man taking him on an errand. I was a little late picking him up at the store. I apologized for my lateness and he said, "You know, life's too short to worry about little things like that. Besides, time is something I have plenty of."

He's right. I hope when I'm 102 I can say with confidence, "time is something I have plenty of."

Hopefully, I'm learning to worry about the 'big things' and let go of what I can't deal with. Someone I love is in the hospital - that's a big worry. Can't get reception on the TV - no big deal. The less I worry about, the better view I have of life.

One of our centenarians (I'll call her Carolyn) worries about very little. She walks with a cane now, but she still walks. The cane she uses is a beautiful black polished piece of wood with a well-worn brass duck's head on the top. The cane belonged to her grandmother. :-)

Carolyn drove until she was 99. She is now 104+. She told me once, "I want to get stopped for speeding sometime so I can see the look on the officer's face when he sees I was born in 1905." You gotta love a woman like that.

Anyhow, Carolyn was in one of our dining rooms having a late breakfast - it was about 9:30 a.m. Defying all conventional wisdom, she sat at her table with a plate in front of her with two eggs over easy, four strips of bacon, a hearty serving of hashbrown potatoes, toast with real butter, a cup of real coffee. As I approached her, she was shaking salt over her breakfast like there was no tomorrow.

"Carolyn," I said, "I wish I could use salt like that. But you know . . ."

"They told me that too over the years," she replied, "But you know what? I like salt."

And that was that. She didn't worry about what all the doctors and magazines said. She liked to salt her eggs. At 104 I say "more power to her."

Second, I need to be healthy. Most of our 90 year olds are from the pre-smoking, pre-drinking generation of life. Smoking is prohibited on our campus here and a vast majority of our folks don't drink. Those who do drink don't drink much more than wine or an occasional beer.

They also have lifelong healthy habits. They garden. They walk. They read good books. They keep informed about current events. They go to Church regularly and have strong personal devotional lives. Many of them still play musical instruments or a hobby that they enjoy. These are lifelong, healthy habits.

I need to be more healthy. Carolyn's salt habit not withstanding, she, and others in the 90+ age group learned a few things through their lives. They learned to enjoy walking where they could. They learned to do without in the Great Depression. They learned to work for what they had before paying for it - rather than getting swallowed in debt they couldn't pay afterwards.

Even their recreation was healthier. These folks played baseball - they didn't have satellite with a dozen channels of baseball to watch. These people went camping in tents, building fires, hunting and fishing and all thay - they didn't travel place to place in a $250,000 RV with all the amenities of home. They were leaders, builders, donors, and workers. And when they were done, they went home - not to a bar, not to a club, not to other distractions - because home was where their hearts were.

Third, these people really enjoy living. Every day is a new adventure. Everyday they get out of bed with a list of things to do, people to see, wishes to fulfill. They love their families and they enjoy their friends.

These folks have taught me that part of the joy of living to be 90 and 100 is simply to accept the joy of every day.

Finally, our 90+ and 100+ gang has taught me that aging is truly only a state of mind. No one is going to prevent wrinkles or compromised immune systems or greying hair or muscle shrinkage or any of the other 'benefits' of aging, so why try to fight it?

When we're kids, we go through a whole lot more changes in our bodies, minds, and souls than we do as adults. But even in our adult years we change. Through the parenting years and the empty nest years, our bodies adapt to whatever comes our way.

Why should we think that aging would be any different? Yes, joints weaken, circulation slows, breathing becomes more difficult, etc. But why can't we accept that this is as much a natural part of our lives as learning how to balance on a bicylce or develping a mind to attend college or anything else?

Our older older adults remind me that it's healthiest and best to take life in stride and accept what comes your way instead of trying to fight it. There's no harm in growing older . . . and it sure beats the alternative.

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