I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cycles

Looking back: today and fifty years ago
I was looking at the picture of myself as a young woman the other day, and I wondered if I took  picture of myself today, now, and compared it to that old photo, would I be recognizable as being the same person? I put it on my iPad and took it to the coffee shop and showed it around. Nope. I might have been the grandmother of that younger self, but nobody recognized the person I have become today as that young woman.

That's the way of things, though, isn't it? We are all moving through our lives from birth to death, and everyone is dramatically different after half a century of life; it has changed us, aged us, as we traverse the many cycles of life. That young woman had already been married twice and divorced once, lost her younger son to spinal meningitis, and so was already acquainted with suffering. But little did she know who she would become, although she thought about it.

When we are in our twenties, thinking about ourselves growing old seems impossible. We look at our parents and grandparents and their friends and acquaintances, and we see what we think we will be like when we reach their age. But it's rarely like that, it seems. My mother never did become a septuagenarian; she died at 69. Both of my grandmothers died in their seventies, but they seemed much older in those days. In the 1960s and 1970s, by the time women reached the age of 70 they were certainly not expected to do much more than sit in a rocking chair and knit, read mystery novels, and perhaps cook. This is reflected in the films and television shows of the era.

Somehow it began to change, and by the time the new century rolled around, it wasn't unusual for older women to be given a different role: that of active, involved citizens who challenge themselves to strive for fitness. I don't think I ever heard of a seventy-something woman running a marathon in 1965. I suppose they did, but nothing like you see today. Times have definitely changed in fifty years, and the expectation that someone in their seventies and eighties could still be very active has become commonplace. I found this article on line, with some really inspiring stories: 10 People Over Seventy Who Are Fitter Than You. These ten people range in age from 70 to 102. I have difficulty reconciling the expectations of half a century ago with the reality of today.

As most of my readers know, I work at staying fit and exercise regularly at the gym, walk and hike with my friends, but even so, I have begun the process of trying to stay ahead of my infirmities. A bad knee (tore my ACL and had subsequent ACL replacement surgery in 1994), some Achilles tendon pain, and other aches and pains keep me from doing more. Most of my hiking pals, all of us seniors, have to deal with some chronic condition that needs to be managed. At the party we had on Friday, our dear friend Amy came to visit. She stopped hiking with us earlier this year because of a knee replacement and intractable back problems. She will probably be unable to join us on the trails any more. Ross had two knees replaced in the spring and is doing much better, and may even be able to hike with us again next year. He's working on it. But there's no guarantee.

Last night I awoke thinking about this post, what I would write about this morning, and the word "cycles" kept running through my mind. I realize that this coming spring will mark seven years since I retired and moved here. That got me to thinking about how many seven-year cycles I've marked in my lifetime: a full ten, and I'm working on the eleventh. By the time I reach the end of this cycle, I'll be 77 years old. A lot can happen in those five years, especially as we get into the higher reaches of our seventies. Perhaps I won't be able to continue my activities at that age, but maybe I will. It depends a lot on maintaining my fitness level and gradually advancing it, keeping myself at a good weight, eating right, and staying involved in my community.

I read an interesting article yesterday, written by E.J. Emanuel, entitled Why I Hope to Die at 75. Of course, he's only 57 right now, and that advanced age looks to be a long ways in the future. Well, he makes the case that it's only after we reach that age (75), that we begin to think we can prolong our lives by constant vigilance, working harder and harder to stay at the same place we were when we were younger. He thinks that bypass surgeries and other measures to stave off our inevitable decline are counterproductive. He might be right: I know my father was terrified of having to endure such a thing, and he died of a heart attack at the age of 62, even though there were options that might have allowed him to live much longer. He didn't want to go through it, and I don't blame him. But gosh, how much I would have loved to have him in my life for longer.

As Emanuel points out in the article, quality of life is crucial to continue the enjoyment of our later years. It's normal to want medical science to help out, but I've discovered that the more time I spend in the doctor's office, the less healthy I seem to be. Allopathic medicine looks to give one a prescription to help with sleep, constipation, chronic pain, and the other myriad ills that we all face at one time or another. And they all come with side effects. Well, another pill can help with that acid reflux that is caused by the other medicine, says the doctor.

I take a lot of vitamins and two prescription medications, one for high blood pressure and the other for high cholesterol. Sometimes it can be burdensome, but I think they have helped me to keep from having developed chronic heart disease. With my family history, I feel justified in trying to stay as heathy as possible. When I have my blood drawn, my numbers look pretty good, and I intend to keep it that way for as long I can. I will complete this cycle, my eleventh seven-year cycle, in 2019. I will strive for good health and do what I can to keep going. My philosophy is that if I take care of today, tomorrow will take care of itself.

This is an unusual morning: my partner is out of town, and the spot next to me where I usually hear him stirring at this time is quiet. He will return today after being gone for four days, and I am looking forward to having him walk in the door and return to our daily routine. His absence for a few days has made me realize how much I need him around. It's like breathing: you take it for granted until you can't catch your breath. He's my fresh air, and once he's home I will breathe easy again.

I wish you all good things in your life until we meet again next week.

18 comments:

June said...

Taking care of today and letting tomorrow take care of itself is a good philosophy. I read something recently that went, "If you're sad, you're living in the past. If you're scared, you're living in the future." The point, of course, is to stay right where we are: another way of letting tomorrow take care of itself.

I so admire your sociability and your drive to physical activity! I do believe those are two chromosomes left out of my genetic material.

Marty Damon said...

I find it very easy to see the young woman in the older of those two pictures.
You triggered a thought with your philosophy of focusing on today rather than tomorrow. It was a reminder to me to s t o p and be present for this moment, this today. It's so easy to continue our younger habit of rushing on to the next thing, rather than savoring what we have.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

I absolutely love this post because I think a lot about the same kind of things. One thing I have learned is we don't need cholesterol lowering drugs because that leads to not enough fat in our brain and now Parkinson's and Alzheimer's are on the rise. Egg yokes are good for us. So is coconut oil. It actually helps us stave off the above dreaded diseases. high blood pressure also goes down when the blood vessels are more flexible from flaxseed oil. Most harmful to us all is the sugar hidden in everything we eat. It helps to build up our internal yeast production and the yeast can be a real monster, even a possible pre cancer beast!
Should we carry on as long as we wish? I believe it should be a personal choice now. Times have changed a lot and not all elderly feel a need to carry on going. They are content with what was their path and they wish to let go and move to their final place.
This desire seems to be considered selfish by many and crazy or suicidal by others. But realistically we are born to die and we know that. We have created a strong system of caring for loved ones that may be a bit unbalanced now.
The cycles you speak of are interesting ones. Mine come in every 8 years.
8,16,24,32.40.48.56,62,and soon 70.
i am adding magnesium chloride to my diet now to help keep the calcium levels in a better place. I'm curious to see how that will work.
Buddy will be treated on a big anti fungal diet to see how we can help his psoriasis. Some have found this to be the "cure". No sugar, no starches and lots of good oil is now our hope.
Have a great week and yes when our partner is away it changes who we become. we are somehow meshed together even in our subconsciousness. I guess that's one reason we are afftraid of our loss if and when it comes?

Midlife Roadtripper said...

Such a rich post. Much to think about. I thought i funny when I read your first paragraph because I had looked at the three pictures of you at the top of the blog and said to myself, "Boy she hasn't changed in all these years." I was surprised that no one saw you in your younger self.

You are right, we must take good care of ourselves. At 58 I'm at a place where I truly need to be more consistent in my exercise. I am now more aware of my age in that life seems to be going so fast.
Much food for thought here and I enjoyed this.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Well I am not seventy but I am inching closer ever year! You are a marvelous example to us all staying active!
I just take a BP pill...my cholesterol has always been fine.
Good to hear your Smart Guy is coming back...I bet he made veggies for you before he left. My Guy and I feel lonely without each other too.
:)

gigihawaii said...

How splendid you looked back then and even now, DJan. You are indeed blessed with good looks and a fit body. Keep on this path and you will live to be 100 years old. Look at my mother, she is 98.

Elephant's Child said...

We very rarely can see the seed by the time the flower blooms. But it is there.
A wonderful thought provoking post. Thank you. Again.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Great post. All of us over the age of 40 or 50 or 60 think of the same things.May Smart Guy return quickly and safely!

Arkansas Patti said...

I'd have picked you out. We did a similar thing in my support group and we all recognized the younger versions. Somethings don't really change but become more defined.
So glad your partner will be back soon. Usually it is good to have a separation every now and then. It shakes up habit.

Red said...

Our parents missed many of the things that we have today which give us much better quality of life. They were lacking some things in diet. They did not have the knowledge of fitness. In spite of everything Dad lived to 95.
I think we can do much for ourselves as you are doing.

Linda Reeder said...

I see the young woman in you still. Years age us more than they change us.
We don't know what the next cycle can bring, but we can do what we can today to be ready for tomorrow.
I love hearing your feelings for your Smart Guy. You always sound so self contained that I have wondered about your relationship.

amanda | wildly simple said...

You are beautiful in both photos, DJan. To me the likeness is strong.

Last week my neighbor Marianne was over to visit, she's still driving, still going strong, independent on the farm her husband homesteaded so long ago, still flying and traveling.. she was in Colorado a couple of months ago and then to Delaware & site seeing all over last month.
I was showing her some old photos (I have a deep appreciation for them.. I love when you share them, too ☺) of my great grandfather throughout his life. I told her that he lived to be 100, so I was able to know him well into my adolescence. She was surprised, saying, "I didn't think people lived that long back then!" And here she is, on the go at 95, taking her 101 year old sister out to go grocery shopping.

I enjoy when you share tidbits of appreciation about Smart Guy. To be fit and healthy are of great importance when it comes to quality of life.. but to love & be loved go a long ways, too. :)

Rita said...

I could definitely see that was you as a young thing!

My dad is almost 94, his brother is 92 I think and their mother lived to be 104. My mother is 84 and in better physical shape than I am--LOL! I'm only 63, just a youngun'. Most everybody lives into at least their late 80s in our family with a few exceptions. A cousin of mine who was born the same year just died on cancer last year, so you never know. I don't think about it much. I've always been a present moment type of person for the most part.

I admire how you love to be so active and participate in such exciting adventures every single week. You are both a doer and a thinker. I love your Sunday posts. You'll be happy when Smart Guy is back home. Have a great week, my friend! :)

Dee said...

Dear DJan, first, a comment about the photograph of you at age 70. It's the first photo I've seen of you in which you aren't smiling and I find this one so evocative. Why? Because that face reveals a woman of reflection who seems to be at peace with herself and her world. Serenity is the word I thought of when I saw that picture.

The skin of a a younger woman is often stretched taut over her cheekbones, but as we age that skin loses its tautness and settles into laughter lines and the crevices of our experiences.

Your face reveals a woman who has suffered and yet has found peace at the deep center of herself. A beautiful face. Peace.

Linda Myers said...

Love both pics of you.

I think about the same things. For a while I assumed that if I took care of myself I'd wake up one morning and not hurt anywhere. I think I'm getting to the point where I'm ready to drop that assumption.

Now I'm going for a two-mile walk in my neighborhood. Not as far as you go, but getting out there is critical.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, As you will know, I enjoy collecting antique paper, such as the old railroad brochure, from 1913, I posted just yesterday on John’s Island. After reading your latest post here I’m thinking how right you are about how things have changed so much. When that old brochure was published, 101 years ago, there was not only no internet, but no computers. I’m enjoying living during this time when blogging has emerged as an interesting hobby. Again, as you will know, I just took a short break, and during that time I realized that I did miss keeping up with a few blogs I’ve been following and one of those is Eye on the Edge. You are, at least in my humble opinion, doing an excellent job of reflective thinking about life’s experiences. I really find fascinating this idea of two pictures … now and then. One of the reasons I find it so interesting is that I’m a retired teacher … I taught at the high school level for 21 years and met, literally, thousands of young students. Sometimes, today, when I’m out and around, I’ll see someone and think: golly … could that be Tim, or Benny, or ???? Do you know what I mean? For some of those youngsters it’s been 30 years since I have seen them. Well, I don’t want to ramble on too long on this but the point is I really enjoy your writing. Thank you for sharing and also for your kind comments on my blog. Wishing you well in the days ahead. John

troutbirder said...

Interesting post. For me adapting is a key. Giving up those activities that are no longer safe given existing conditions and finding new one that are equally fun and interesting. Oh and counting on my genes as my dad and all of his five siblings lived well into their nineties...

troutbirder said...

Interesting post. For me adapting is a key. Giving up those activities that are no longer safe given existing conditions and finding new one that are equally fun and interesting. Oh and counting on my genes as my dad and all of his five siblings lived well into their nineties...