Titans of Aging


I had a recent health scare—or rather a couple of doctors had one on my behalf and I soon joined them. I’d come in for a prescription refill and found myself being counseled to have tests run. No symptoms: just a date passing in the year. I promised to follow up, but next business morning I received a call to set up a consult: that morning. Consult made, test scheduled. The earliest I could get in was two weeks hence.

I spent that fortnight wondering why flipping the odometer on my gage from 59 to 60 alarmed the medical profession so. It was as if I passed the witching hour on my last day as 59 and all the genetic Titans locked in Tartarus made a jail break and were running rampant through my body. My family history, not my symptomology, had elicited the concern.

And sure enough there they were: four little polyps just out of diapers. A biopsy scheduled. More waiting. I began living—well attempting to live—a bifurcated life. If all’s well, our nonprofit can be counted on for this and this. My children can depend on me for that and that. My husband and I can move into our thirty-fourth year of marriage with expectancy. If not? What can I be counted on for? Do I tell her? Him? To whom can I show my fear? Who do I protect?

In the end, my husband had to call for the results. The nurse apologized for the delay; their sick-people business was booming. But good news! All baby polyps were benign; we’d caught them before they grew up, formed a gang, and started vandalizing my system. In three years I go back in: same song, second verse.

I learned the news on my way to teach a class. I finished that and suddenly felt my weariness. I ached. I cried. My sinuses plugged up and my ears followed suit. I could attend now to the smaller discomforts of my body. I could taste food instead of forcing it down. I even slept through the night.

I’m grateful to the medical community for its vigilance. Not so much for the waiting. Will there be, in the coming years, more of these “hurry up and waits?” Will I get accustomed to bifurcated living? Will I find peace less a determined spiritual practice and more a natural state of mind? I have no idea. This I do know—facing the Titans of Aging takes courage, even if I face them with my teeth chattering and my eyes blinded with tears. And, for me at least, the courage comes, not as a token obtained by dropping coins in a prayer machine, but by praying in the sweat of terror—but praying all the same. And by considering the needs of those I love: determining who I want to be for them—if I live another couple of weeks or another couple of decades.

You hear me Titans? Game on.



Okay. Here goes. Last week my odometer moved from 59 to 60.

Gone are the days when I pronounced my 7- ¾-year status to anyone who would listen: when I divided the year into quarters in anticipation of the next milestone. Why the change?

It would seem I’ve moved from “deep in the action” to “yesterday’s news.” It’s hard to resist the message that aging is shameful. It must be or we’d feel no need for anti-aging creams, face lifts, or sitcoms stereotyping older people as addle-headed. Hilarious.

Thing is, I’m not yesterday’s news. So I will move deep into life with 6-nity: a dignity that accepts myself and my years. How? By

  1. Staying Thirsty: with so many books to read, concerts to attend, lectures to hear, and people of differing perceptions to know, I’d best get busy. I’ll stay thirsty, my friend.
  2. Contributing: My worry on my 60th birthday—Would the people I serve think I’m no longer up for the task? Instead, they celebrated my birthday with full and eager hearts. With so much need in the world and with so much to give, I’ll roll up my sleeves.
  3. Staying Fit: I spend more time these days caring for my body, but that attention allows me to do the things I really care about. I’ll exercise, eat prudently, get adequate rest, and take those pesky calcium pills.
  4. Keeping It Real: Aging isn’t for sissies. I wept all over my first pair of bifocals. Ditto with the trifocals. I can’t deny my need for serious visual aids. I’ll seek to see as clearly other truths about myself and my age. Delusions can make me blind in other, more destructive ways; I’ll keep a sharp eye.
  5. Laughing: It’s a balancing act—maintaining humor enough to avoid what Berk Breathed termed “offensensitivity” and maintaining enough self-respect to avoid casting myself as a buffoon. I’ll not take myself too seriously, but I’ll take myself seriously enough.
  6. Building Soul Muscle: My body has term limits, but my soul’s in it for eternity.I’ll maintain spiritual practices that muscle my soul for adventures to come.
  7. Loving: God, others, creation, self. In loving, I create a powerful good that far outdistances my physical life. Those capable of loving are deep in the action. I’ll keep on loving.

I will die. But right now I am alive & I will live 6-nity with humor, love, and dignity. I hope the same for you, whatever your age.


Soul Muscle

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
“She not about to change now.”

Such remarks assume that our souls wear down alongside our physical selves: that the uniqueness that is you and me develops age spots, wrinkles, and osteoporosis. I can see where folks get that idea; with aging, some people close in on themselves, growing brittle and bitter. But it need not be so. Indeed, with the children grown and a level of vocational competence achieved, we gain the freedom to tone our souls.

No matter what age we are, we’re just getting started—there’s much more to each of us than this suit of skin can contain.

Below are some fitness options for a good “soul workout.”

1. Be available to different opinions: read a book that professes an opposing worldview, or hang out with folks from that “other party.”

2. Tone our brains: take on a subject that’s always been a challenge, be it an online philosophy course (iTunes U offers some great courses) or a workbook on mathematics. Thanks to Rosetta Stone, I’m having moderate success learning Spanish.

3. Create: whether we tend a garden, write a poem, or decorate our workspace, creative process supplies restorative oxygen to our souls.

4. Serve: walking in another’s shoes and tending to another’s needs, keeps our souls & soles supple.

5. Practice prayer: Connecting with God our morning and evening pillow, as we work, on the highway (eyes open, please!) supplies needed electrolytes to our wearied soul muscles.

Whether we’ve eight or eighty, our souls are an infinitely renewable resource. Given regular exercise, they’ll grow heartier and more limber with age. What are your practices for toning soul muscle? I’d love to read them!