Column: Define your senior years by not letting your age define you
James Blinn | Dreamstime.com
Editor's note: Robert Faber writes occasional columns for AnnArbor.com about aging, politics and other issues.
The most common complaint of my contemporaries — aside from arthritis and memory loss and failing sight and hearing — is boredom.
Before being tested by the strains of age we were constantly challenged — to earn a living, or guide our kids, or please our boss. We have since outlived our job, our kids have outgrown us and are trying to guide their kids, our boss has outsourced his workforce to India and moved to Florida — and we are still stuck in yesterday’s malaise.
And that is the benefit and the curse of old age — we are now less bound by the requirements imposed upon us by our earlier role of responsible adult. Retirement cannot invalidate our past performance, but it can greatly alter the routines that had long shaped and limited our days.
Age has its problems, of course, but we need not be defined by them. Tests of strength and endurance -- squash games after work, or competing with our kids on the ski slopes, or running the half-marathon -- may be things of the past, but we can still respond to the thrill of challenges met and occasionally conquered.
We need no longer dedicate ourselves to predicting and dealing with events in the lives or routines of those near to us. We can now adjust our lives to once again seek old objectives and to pursue goals previously restricted by the ticking clock. In the superfluous hours of our senior years, some of those earlier projects that had been lost because we had not the time to properly prepare and pursue them, can now resurface with a greater hope for success.
Age has its problems, of course, but we need not be defined by them. Tests of strength and endurance — squash games after work, or competing with our kids on the ski slopes, or running the half-marathon — may be things of the past, but we can still respond to the thrill of challenges met and occasionally conquered.
And age also has its perks and benefits well beyond being offered a seat on a crowded bus. Even in addition to cheaper movie tickets, senior rates apply to such athletic facilities as golf courses and tennis courts, excellent activities for the reduced schedules of most retirees. (An incidental benefit to those senior-rate athletic opportunities is that we must stay in shape to take advantage of them, so for those of us not wise enough to stay fit for the sake of our health, just being cheap has its own set of rewards.)
Now, with time to pursue pleasures undimmed by the constraints of work or the obligations of family, we can concentrate on all those inviting adventures of travel, or acquiring interesting new technical skills, or pursuing long-neglected educational objectives. Senior status and retirement by itself cannot change our world, but it can make a big dent in the wall we had built around ourselves.
When younger, our accomplishments tended to be rewards of the workplace, or the achievements of our children, or trophies honoring our athletic triumphs, but now retired from the routine rituals of maturation, many alternative areas of satisfaction are becoming available to us. Learning to play a musical instrument, or mastering a new language, or learning the wonders of a new and constructive craft can provide pleasures and a sense of satisfaction that make the achievements of old age ever more gratifying. In brief, when we reach what we had once regarded as our period of decay, there is still much more growth left to embrace and enjoy.
But senior exertions need not be focused on productive activities — it is the challenge itself, much more than the project, that holds the key. One senior friend still only in his mid-60s and retired from his job in the pharmaceutical industry, took classes in woodworking, bought some power tools and is now turning out tables and cabinets and assorted other projects that are as beautiful and practical as making them was fulfilling.
And another, in his early 70s, retired from the comfortable confines of the university and learned to play golf. He now plays in the eighties (score - not age or temperature) and spends long segments of his winters playing on courses from Biloxi to Ireland. A whole new world for him -- and he loves it.
Age, after all, is not a disease or a boundary -- it is a phase. I recall reading many years earlier that at age 56, Mr. J.C. Penney, had gone broke, then managed to get his act together and go back into business (his business being “Penney’s”). As a youngster I was astonished that a person of such advanced age had both the stamina and the skills to start something new (or old, in that case) and make it work. And then I turned 56 — and opened a travel agency, a business requiring experience and skills totally foreign to me. And that is the point: Old age is evident when sizing up a stranger, but not when looking in the mirror.
Which is the essence of what I see as the least painful way of growing old. Many of the deficiencies of age are more in the mind — and the attitude — than in the design, so the less emphasis we put upon the limits and the fewer restrictions we assign to them, the closer we will be to the positive pleasures of aging.
Bob Faber has been a resident of Ann Arbor since 1954. He and his wife, Eunice, owned a fabric store and later a travel agency. He served a couple of terms on the Ann Arbor City Council. He may be reached at email@example.com.