Six a.m. Twenty four hours from now I’ll be climbing into my friend’s Lyft ride and heading to Denver International Airport. Two enormous bags accompany me, one full of gear for the summit attempt up Mt. Kenya. The other is full of gear for a week’s horseback riding in Madagascar.
I’ll miss the midterms (thank god for small favors). I’ll miss Thanksgiving.
Right about the time most folks will be carving their turkeys, I’ll be camping with my guide and attendant crew in the forests.
My Thanksgiving dinner is likely to be a few Kind bars.
And a whole lotta gratitude.
Which is how we are supposed to be spending Thanksgiving. But that’s just me.
In two months, or thereabout, I’ll be 66. In Western society, and especially America, those of us who have reached this august age and older are largely considered Over and Out. Our opinions are rarely solicited, we are invisible in meetings (especially if female), we are disregarded in conversations.
People over sixty can often walk into a room and bang a drum and likely few would notice. Say the wisest thing at the table and nobody notices.
My mentor Meg, who died three years ago this month at 92, pointed out to me a few years back that the older you get, the more invisible you become. This from a serial entrepreneur, lifelong athlete, and someone who, in her 90s, was still buying and running companies dedicated to cleaning the world’s water.
To say that Meg had a few things to say about life, business success and entrepreneurship is an understatement. Yet she became invisible in the board rooms that she inhabited her entire life.
It’s a fact enough of life that we over-medicate our seniors, to say nothing of ourselves, long before we hit sixty. This has led to the widespread misunderstandings about normal aging. Drug-related dizziness, falls, and all manner of frightening symptoms are now just…normal. Um, no they aren’t.
Our addiction to quick fixes in the form of pills tends to age us fast, not the least of these being anti-depressants which can shorten your life span by 33%, according to some studies. (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4882420/Antidepressants-raise-risk-early-death-33.html)
Here are other ways- besides toxic meds-that we age ourselves prematurely: https://www.afpafitness.com/research-articles/common-premature-aging-factors.
I note here that attitude is one of the biggest factors. If you are driven by terror, you are going to yank years off your life whether you use a $1500 face cream or not. Happiness is intrinsic. It doesn’t live in a wrinkle cream.
We throw ourselves into extreme sports as a way of denying Death his due. Makes no diff. In fact, for some, the very extremity of the training can shorten life (https://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/youll-never-know-these-exercises-speed-aging-you-dont-read-this-2.html). This is what happens when we do anything to excess. The body has a great sense of humor until you beat the sh*t out of it through abuse or extremes. Either way, it tends to express its opinion, and you land in the ER. Or the ground.
We are aging a great deal faster than we used to at the same time we’re terrified of aging. What a dichotomy.
What’s worse is that the very methods we’re using to prevent age are aging us faster than Father Time. Pills and procedures and anxious worry about every wrinkle. Plastic surgery that turns us into a parody of our previous selves. Money that could have been far better spent living large, adventuring in one way or another, wherever one’s passions lead.
But then, that’s just me.
When I got up this morning my butt muscles complained. Two days ago I hiked 3600 steps at 6200', my last long foray before this trip. Today I will do yoga, especially because I have a very long trip ahead of me. Cramped seating, a sore neck, sore back, bad food and long connections.
It’s life on the road. Lots of you can relate.
When I land in Dar es Salaam, I will be assailed with the intense spices of the African air. Meat cooking on open grills. Exotic foods. Cook smoke. The brilliant colors of skirts and headdresses. This is just the short drive from the airport to the hotel nearby. My guide and I will then drive to Kenya, then spend about six days on the mountain. I’ll either make it to the top or I won’t. I sure has hell have done the work.
The point is to try.
What I am guaranteed is an epic experience. I’ve long since let go of the need to summit. I always have, but going forward, there’s no guarantee. Just as there’s no guarantee that the best climbers in the world will summit their mountains. Too many factors at work: weather, altitude sickness, bad food, exhaustion, name your poison.
One day after stumbling down Mt. Kenya, I board another plane to Madagascar. There I am off to ride for six days. Again, I have no clue about, nor control over, what will happen.
I may get thrown. We may never see a single lemur.
What matters is to venture out. To TRY.
Time is going to pass no matter what you and I do. What we think or say or believe. It is inevitable, merciless and brutally unkind. No expensive procedure will buy us time. It may buy us a slightly less tired visage. Hey look, I invested in that myself. I didn’t expect anything other than my jowls would be minimized. That’s what I got.
But not more time. What’s criminal is that society — and all the messages that sell the shit we buy — criminalizes the aging process. Turns what is normal, law-conformable and absolutely necessary- our death- into a disease. I like this piece which addresses this appalling concept with thought and care: https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2010/07/15/128536658/is-death-a-disease-that-can-be-cured
My god, imagine the wars, the famine if nobody died. Mama Nature knows what she’s doing. Age isn’t the issue. Abusing ourselves is.
There are diseases we might get as we age. They aren’t inevitable, especially when we refuse toxic meds, question our caregivers and make regular (and loving) demands on our bodies, brains, emotions and courage. A lousy aging process is not guaranteed. About 70% of our quality of life is squarely in our hands.
Age is not a disease in and of itself. Yet we treat it as such. So we not only attack others for aging, we attack ourselves for the crime of accumulating years.
How dare we obey the laws of nature and diminish. Like the lovely Galadriel, in Lord of the Rings, who understands that her time is done. What grace it requires of us to acknowledge the sacred role of aging, and the opportunity to give back to our Mother the body that she gave us to use as we will for the time we have. How achingly sad so many of us spend so much of our time bemoaning what we cannot keep — youth — while wasting time and treasure attempting to recapture or prevent its loss.
Rather than simply living as fully as we possibly can in the moments we do have. That’s called mindfulness. Living full in the now.
How disheartening to read other Medium writers’ comments about turning thirty as though they’ve committed a capital crime. To age is to confront our mortality. We will be eaten: by life, by time, by the Earth itself.
This is as it should be.
We don’t have to be eaten alive by our fears.
At 66 I still have a few decades, barring another failed parachute (that’s happened twice) a hungry Bull shark (that happened off the coast of Africa) a feisty horse (two of them, a smashed shoulder and broken back notwithstanding). The way I see it, having felt the cold breath of Death cascading over my right shoulder has made me damned appreciative of life.
However many decades are left of it.
The real danger is to fear age to the point where we are immobilized. That’s the real disease of aging: fear of aging. Proof positive that there is, indeed, an end to us as we know ourselves to be. An end to the body that carries us.
You and I have the same number of seconds, minutes, hours, days, up until our individual due dates. Some of us have more, some less. How we live in the context of that time determines our joy.
How grateful we are to even have time on this blue marble has the greatest impact on the quality of that time.
Every single day, 151,600 people die. http://www.ecology.com/birth-death-rates/ If you’re reading this, you’re one of the lucky ones. Yet millions of us spend our precious, limited time finding fault with life.
We allow ourselves to be eaten by fear, eaten by forces that tear our happiness from us.
It is the fate of all things to eat, and be eaten. How awful, then, to be eaten inside out by fears of something that is inevitable, natural, normal.
As you and I face our feasts this coming Thanksgiving, I would offer this for your consumption as it were: that life, the one you have, that precious, fleeting, magnificent collection of moments offered us on this globe, is indeed a smorgasbord. You can hand it over to the Forces that will devour its quality through fear, or you can choose to live it out loud as the poems you and I were meant to be:
The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me — he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed — I too am untranslatable;
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
The last scud of day holds back for me;
It flings my likeness after the rest, and true as any, on the shadow’d wilds;
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I depart as air — I shake my white locks at the runaway sun;
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeathe myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love;
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am, or what I mean;
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged;
Missing me one place, search another;
I stop somewhere, waiting for you
Verse 52, from Song of Myself, Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
I wish you happy travels, wherever they take you. But above all, travels untrammeled by useless fears.
That’s a life well-lived indeed. Hopefully, a long, long one.