Back from the Future

My mother is almost 87 and my father 89. They live in
Tucson and have a nice manufactured home in a nice park on Speedway.
Mother’s health is failing due to emphysema: Dad seems to be doing well
and going strong. They migrated to Arizona about 15 years ago in
deference to Mother’s desire for heat and dry air. Dad would prefer to
be in Texas or Oklahoma where the ‘hawks turn lazy circles in the sky’…
mostly for fishing and picking pecans. Perhaps one of these days he
will get his wish.

My
son and I spent Thanksgiving with them. We had turkey at the Elk’s Club
with about 100 other retired people of modest means in their 70s and
80s—mostly couples from the Midwest, ‘snowbirds’ migrating to the Sun
for the Winter. They seemed to be having a good time. After lunch, most
of the folks went home to watch TV and take naps or went out to play
golf, cruise the mall, or maybe do some more visiting with friends and
neighbors. Life is good there. Most days are variations of this
one—albeit without the turkey.

Now, in retrospect the question that keeps coming up for me is
whether this is my future. Right now, I don’t want to spend the last
couple of decades of my life just having a comfortable existence. I
enjoy time off, but I don’t want a twenty or thirty-year vacation. I
think the thing that frightens me most about getting older is the
possibility I might drift into a kind of resigned boredom, waiting for
the end. I talked to my parents and they are not particularly unhappy,
but then they don’t think about whether they are happy or not. The most
‘enlivened’ people in my parent’s circle of friends, including my
father, are involved in some form of creative self-expression or
community service. They are living life as best they can—one day at a
time—trying to be good citizens and friendly neighbors.

Why does this make me sad? Why does the prospect of a comfortable
existence in the Sun someplace seem to me to be the booby prize? My
whole life has been about producing, learning, hopefully contributing
something, and seeking new experiences and wholesome fun. Is my sadness
because I don’t see a lot of that in Tucson?

This blog is about wanting to transform our expectations of aging
from being about decline to being about possibility—to be able to be
enthusiastic about the next twenty years. If drifting into boredom is
my future, it is hard to get too enthusiastic about growing older, and
if I don’t take care, it could become downright depressing, no matter
how comfortable the circumstances.

I realize now that the source of my being enthusiastic about the
future is not a function of a lifestyle or an environment, but about
what I can create—both experientially and materially. If my old age is
a circumstance that I have to cope with and survive as long as I can,
then maybe less is better. I don’t know. But if my future is a blank
canvas and I am the artist creating my life, then hallelu jah!!! Give
me as much time as possible and get out of the way because the best is
yet to come….

I do know that I am not willing to simply let the culture define who
I am or what it means to grow old. I intend to have the last day of my
life be the best one.

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