It was a fortuneteller (more of a storyteller), of all people, who knocked me right out of incipient dotage. I had been driving all the morning, and I wanted to rest a while, so when I saw a town fair and a tent with a sign, LADY ZARA - FORTUNES TOLD, I stopped. I went in - anticipating some diversion and amusement - and sat down rather limply, feeling my age. The woman took my hand and looked at my palm. “Sir,” she said, “you not finished living yet.” I don’t remember anything else she told me that day five months ago but those words “You not finished living yet,” really made an impression.
Since starting my 50th year of life I had had that 'everything-is-over' feeling. I had actually written in my journal: “I don’t believe anything interesting will ever happen to me again.” But as I left the fortuneteller’s tent I thought, “How stupid I’ve been! As long as I am alive I have not finished with living!”
I started taking better care of my body gained back my morale. As we grow older, eyes may grow dim, ears fail, but our bodily figure remains pretty much under our own control. When one looks in the mirror and finds little resemblance to the young person he used to be, he needs to see some one thing in which to take pride. I feel healthier now, and I am comfortable with my figure (though there still remains room for improvement). Besides, I can now get about better without losing breath so often.
And speaking of getting about, I have friends of my age who hobble along, though there’s nothing the matter with their legs except atrophy from lack of use. The old body is probably not as far gone as you think it is, but you’ve got to give it a chance. The thing to do is to lift your head high, pretend it is floating through the air, and then follow it, swinging along relaxed and easy. I started going for walks – 8 blocks to work every morning (and sometimes back in the evenings) - ten minute quick walks also at first, but little by little I got it up to an hour. Since the weather never really bothers me, I rediscovered my old joy in swimming. For many years I had forgotten how delightful it is to give oneself to the sea, to lie suspended in another element, almost disembodied, seeing the blue or clouded sky overhead, feeling oneself a part of the universe. All this encouraged me; I took to the mountains, to try hike/climbing again. The first time out I got about as high as a two-storey house and gave out. No breath. I marked the spot with a stick. On the next opportunity I carried the stick higher. Before a month was gone I was getting all the way up the mountain route without puffing like a goods train.
Youth has no monopoly on fun. It is still to be had at any age if you go after it. I realize that facing age is not all a matter of taking exercise. One of the most important things is to simplify living. Get rid of all that lifetime accumulation of things. That beautiful shell you picked up 40 years ago - will it be anything but a dust-collector to your heirs and successors? Kiss it goodbye and toss it out. I threw away, gave away - kept only necessities.
Time is more precious now than ever before. Make a list of all those things about which you have said, “Some day I’m going to do that.” Every now and then I cross something off: mission accomplished. It’s a good feeling. And there’s still such a long list ahead of me that I’d need nine lives to get through it. All this keeps me from living in the past. It helps also if you keep learning something new. Take painting lessons, study mediva1 history, become an authority on birds or dogs - anything you can get excited about and absorbed in. Travel, if you can afford it. And why stop at the big expensive hotels and resorts? They are all alike. Look for a neat little cottage with a rooms-to-let sign or a cosy bed-and-breakfast. The owner may be a fascinating person who can give you tips on things to see which are not mentioned in guide books. If you have a talent of some sort, earn your way. I know an ex-colleague, who went into frail-care nursing, who travels thousands of kilometres each year, picking up jobs as she goes; it once took her three years to complete a trip and she had a marvelous time getting there.
It is also important to be interested in people. I know many lonely old folk. “All my friends are gone,” they sigh. Why haven’t they been making new friends? To do it; simply get out from under your self-imposed ‘duties’; that rut you live and make the effort. Stop expecting new friends to come to you. Join a church organization or a debate club, or become a volunteer hospital worker and really work. Workers are always welcomed.
Forget differences of age and take people just as human beings. Keep in the back of your mind the notion that, odd as this one seems to be, or unprepossessing as that one may appear, who knows? – They may turn out to be the new friend of the year. It is amazing the response such an attitude awakens, for people know instinctively when you are giving them a chance. I know one woman who landed in a good job because, just for the fun of it, she went to an agency with her 17-year-old granddaughter who was trying to get work as a model. The agency manager took one look at grandmother and sent the girl home. “Pretty young things are dime-a-dozen, you’re the one we want,” he said.
Almost everyone has something that he does well, and enjoys doing, that can help to bring in extra money when necessary. I am not really a good cook or master chef - but I do enjoy the chemistry of food-making – and bread-making is one of the things I like to do. I make a new kind of bread every now and then, two loaves. I give one away, in exchange for an honest opinion of it. So I keep on learning. And I’m confident that I shall be able to find buyers if I ever need them. I feel easy in my mind, knowing I have this skill. This sort of ease is common sense and courage, equal parts. Real security comes from a deep inner confidence that we’ll manage somehow. When I was young; and in the midst of hectic living; the idea of security and quiet repose sounded tempting. But now I think how deadly dull that repose would be. No, I’m “not finished living yet.”
And what is living? It is trouble and risk, struggle and worry, accomplishment, failure, a little bit of everything, including fun. It is any sort of loving, whether for man or beast, or simply a daily delight in the things around us - for little wet stones along the shore, a windblown white cloud. Why stop living till you have to?
Let’s start living life again, to the finish, together ~
“…so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” -Hebrews 9:28