Barely Begun at Seventy – How to Never Get Old – Conclusion

BLOG #30, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BARELY BEGUN AT SEVENTY
HOW TO NEVER GET OLD
Conclusion
July 23, 2014

“Youth is not a time of life…. It is a state of mind. It is not a matter of ripe cheeks, red lips and supple knees. It is a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is a freshness in the deep springs of life.

Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over love of ease. This often exists in the man of 50 more than the boy of 20.

Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years. People grow old by deserting their ideals. Years wrinkle the skin, but self-distrust, fear and despair–those are the long, long years that bow the head and turn the growing spirit back to dust.

You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.

In the central part of your heart there is a wireless station. So long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage, grandeur and power from the earth, from man and from the infinite, so long are you young. When the wires are all down and the central part of your heart is covered with the snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then you are grown old indeed and may God have mercy on your soul.”

–Author Unknown. Quoted in Josephine Lowman’s column in the
Nov. 10, 1980 Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

If you do a lot of people-watching like authors such as I do, it won’t take long for you to discover that children and teenagers tend to congregate around two groups of people: their age group and old people who never grow old. You can’t possibly miss the latter. You feel their force field the instant they come into the room. They radiate joy and vibrant energy. They’re not at all interested in either themselves or what you might think of them–but rather they are fascinated by everyone in their vicinity. They yearn to hear each one’s life story. They do not grandstand; indeed, they listen more than they talk. When they leave the room it’s like the lights were suddenly dimmed to a fraction of what they were before they came in.

They have a Falstaffian exuberance of life. My maternal grandfather (Herbert Norton Leininger) was a tornado of a man. I was privileged to live my eighth grade year with him and Grandmother Josephine. Early each morning I’d hear the sonorous voice of Gabriel Heater on the radio, setting Grandpa’s sails for the day. The walls were papered with National Geographic maps. The house was like a central command war room, and Grandpa was the Five Star General who knew everything that was going on in the world–and what to do about it. Furthermore, he knew who was responsible. If he felt any particular leader was falling down on the job, he’d sit down at his trusty manual typewriter and tell the offending person how to mend his or her ways. Not in generalities–but in specifics. When the six daughters would come home for Christmas, he’d corral his six sons-in-law and show and tell them what was happening in the world. But he wasn’t at all interested in their opinions–he was the alpha male, and never for a moment let them forget it!

Grandma had learned years before that if she waited to get into the conversational sound-track until the lord of the manor paused for breath, she’d never get in at all because when he was on a roll, Grandpa never did pause for breath. So Grandma wisely (amazingly, she was an early modern in this respect) just talked simultaneously–usually about family, people, gossip, personal things; and the daughters were full participants–and there was much laughter. We kids loved the two sound-tracks, and listened to them both. Especially we reveled in seeing those authority figures (our fathers) squelched by their fierce father-in-law.

Grandpa loved literature–could quote and perform Shakespeare by the hour. Apparently, he knew Hamlet by heart; and would tread the boards like a professional when he could round up a captive audience. When he was 75, he announced that for fifty years he’d pleased his wife and the world by being clean-shaven; now, he was going to please himself. He grew a distinguished goatee, purchased a natty Lincoln hardtop; constructed the first camper we’d ever seen; he and a luckless co-conspirator we knew only as Mr. Smith, painted it the ugliest green I’ve seen in my lifetime, packed it with grub and they journeyed north to the North Pole.

When they returned, before we knew it, they’d headed south into the jungles of Mexico. In his eighties, he announced he was going to find the headwaters of each of California’s major rivers and ride down them in a rubber raft. Never can I forget one day when I was invited to join other descendants who’d dutifully brought the requisitioned grub to the appointed spot on the riverside. After quite a wait, we heard the put-put of an outboard motor, Grandpa veered in to the bank, unloaded what he wanted to get rid of, bequeathing it to us; then, with inimitable noblesse oblige, accepted our tribute, loaded the grub, restarted the motor, headed out to mid-river, and with a jaunty wave, disappeared from view.

On the day of his death, he and his Lincoln were roaring through the Oregon countryside, wiping out mailboxes right and left, as though he was Don Quixote and they were enemy windmills.

His was the only funeral I’ve ever attended where all the “mourners” did was laugh.

* * * * *

So, beloved . . . , you don’t have to ever get old at all. My Great Aunt Lois, at the age of 104, still firmly up to date on the Zeitgeist, was asked, “Aunt Lois, how old do you have to be before you are old?” Without a minute’s hesitation, she shot back, “Old is anyone who is fifteen years older than you are.”

Those who never grow old remain passionately in love with every aspect of life. They are voracious readers and indefatigable travelers. The days are never long enough for all they want to learn and do. Yet in all their continual growth, they continuously watch out for opportunities to help those who need what they’re capable of providing–they are known far and wide for paying it forward. They revel in children and young people, never more joyous than when in the midst of them. Because of all this, they find no time in which to get old. Most likely, death will have to really huff and puff just to trip them up at last. When their race is stopped, funerals are never held for them–only celebrations.

My own beloved mother was just as much in love with life as was her father; she differed from him mainly in that she spent her lifetime ministering to the needs of others. His center of gravity was closer home.

I’ve dedicated 13 of my 86 books to my mother, for she was my lodestar. Possessed of a near photographic memory, she’d memorized thousands of pages of short stories, poetry, and readings. And never slowed down until faced with the cruelest enemy of all, Dementia.

In one of my books, Tears of Joy for Mothers, my introduction is titled, “My Mother’s Scrapbooks,” and it consists of my mother’s favorite poems of the home, of life itself. It is fitting that I close this three-part blog series with the poem she first recited when she won a high school elocutionary contest with it. Later on, it was while hearing her recite it that my father fell in love with her. Late in life, in the “From the Cradle to the Grave” programs she and my father put on, she’d close the program with the one poem that summed up her passion for life: Amelia Burr’s “A Song of Living.”

“Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.
I have sent up gladness on wings to be lost in the blue of the sky,
I have run and leaped with the rain, I have taken the wind to my breast.
My cheek like a drowsy child to the face of the earth I have pressed.
Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.

I have kissed young love on the lips. I have heard his song to the end
I have struck my hand like a seal, in the loyal hand of a friend.
I have known the peace of Heaven, the comfort of work done well.
I have longed for death in the darkness and risen alive out of hell.
Because I have loved life, I have no sorrow to die.

I give a share of my soul to the world where my course is run.
I know that another shall finish the task that I leave undone.
I know that no flower, no flint, was in vain on the path I trod.
As one looks on a face through a window, through life, I have looked on God.
Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.”

Barely Begun at Seventy – Part Two

BLOG #29, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BARELY BEGUN AT SEVENTY – Part Two
July 16, 2014

Most Americans still act as though they inwardly believe they are living under the old template: productive vibrant goal-driven life ends at age 65. Most likely they don’t articulate this in mere words–indeed, they don’t have to: their actions confirm that they are living under the old template.

Some years ago, during a period when I directed an Adult Degree Program in Texas, I realized that there was little correlation between teaching college students and teaching adult students. Since our program included an incredibly wide age-span (students in their twenties all the way to students in their eighties), I was forced to reinvent my inner concept of what teaching was all about. Heretofore I had to relate only to students in their late teens and early twenties. Now, I had students who were older than I was! Those years forced me to deal with the aging process for the very first time in my life, for I was no longer concentrating on a small slice of life but rather all of life. My life has never been the same since.

One study really jolted me. It revealed that the average American tends to die within seven years after retirement. The only exceptions being those who, in effect, never retire at all, but merely shift gears, set new goals, new trajectories, and follow new dreams. Or, in the words of a dear friend of mine, Dr. Phil Burgess: “When your career comes to an end–Reboot!” if you fail to institute such a transition, a command goes out from the Commander in Chief of your inner armed forces (your white blood cells); in essence it reads: Demobilize your defending armies! There are no more dreams or goals left to protect! And you die.

There is no such thing as retirement in Scripture. But rather, it is clear that God expects us to live vigorous, creative, caring, helping, growing, becoming lives as long as we draw breath. We deviate from such divine expectations at our own peril.

Several years ago, I shared the results of another related study with you: The body essentially reinvents itself every hundred days. In other words: At the end of every hundred days–at any age!–, I am either measurably stronger or measurably weaker than I was a hundred days earlier. The difference? Daily exercise (vigorous exercise). Up until the time that study reached me, I had been steadily deteriorating physically due to a predominately sedentary lifestyle. Oh I knew full well I ought to exercise–I just kept postponing doing anything about it. But on that day, around fifteen years ago, when I fully assimilated the significance of that study, I made a vow to God that, starting that very day, I’d vigorously exercise every day! No exceptions. Reason being: I knew myself so well I was absolutely certain that if I missed but one day–I’d miss another . . . and another . . . , and all would be lost. Thus if it’s midnight and I haven’t yet exercised, I’ll not go to bed until I have. Result: When I had my last major operation, the hospitalist said, “You have the cardiovascular system of a much younger man! You’d be amazed at how many patients your age do not; in such cases, we don’t dare operate on them.”

My wife and I love to travel. And on cruise ships we can’t help but notice the difference between those who are physically fit and those who are not. Those who are not (sadly, the majority), are obese. They line up by elevators rather than take the stairs; they don’t take day-trips that involve much walking; they graze continuously; they avoid the walking/running tracks on the ship, they loll around for long stretches of most days by the pool, or on the top deck. They are ferried around, even on the ship, in wheelchairs. They, too, are just waiting to die. And everyone who sees them senses it won’t be long.

But it’s all so needless! It’s all so self-determining. I see the difference in every alumni weekend we attend. Former classmates who today can barely walk across the street without help. Who look at you vacantly when you ask them what they’re doing with their lives.

And it gets worse. Just look around you in the local supermarket or mall, as children, teens, and young adults who ought to be in the prime of their lives are already old. Remember the first part of that question?

“A life may be over at sixteen, or barely begun at seventy.”

Untold thousands of young lives today are over–not because they were killed by someone or were involved in accidents–but because they have ceased to grow or become, and have given up on vigorous daily exercise and healthful diets.

So what would it mean to be “barely begun” at seventy years of age? Tune in next week for the conclusion to this series. Its subtitle is “How to Never Get Old.”

Barely Begun at Seventy – Part One

BLOG #28, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BARELY BEGUN AT SEVENTY – Part One
July 9, 2014

It was a glorious spring morning in California’s verdant Napa Valley. And the alumni were coming home from all across the nation to their alma mater, Pacific Union College, judged by the likes of Newsweek and U.S. News to feature the most beautiful college campus in America.

I was privileged to be one of six alumni to be honored that weekend. But for us it was a two-way street: we were expected to give as well as take. Each of us was given around eight minutes to share with the audience the most significant distilled wisdom life had brought us. If you don’t think that would be a tough challenge, just put yourself in our places: how would you have responded to such an assignment?

For me, the question had profound implications, convicted as I am that all true wisdom comes from God. And since I’ve tweeted nuggets of wisdom every day now for almost three years, I had a lot of distilled wisdom to access. But the core of my response to this assignment was a no-brainer: There was for me only one possible quote that would satisfy. Especially, given the makeup of this particular audience. This is it:

A life may be over at sixteen
or barely begun at
seventy;
it is the aim
that determines its completeness.

That well-over-a-hundred-year-old-quotation came to me just when I needed it most: during the countdown decade leading up to the biblical “threescore and ten” that symbolizes a lifetime. At least that used to be true. In America, prior to the twentieth century, the norm was only forty-five years. Today, we’re back to the biblical seventy. I discovered that seminal quotation in a very old issue of that great magazine for young people: The Youth’s Instructor.

I needed it because as each of us approaches this time-period in life, one’s seventieth birthday can be almost terrifying: You mean my life is almost over? I don’t have any more time left? Will it be all downhill for me now? Will I be living on borrowed time? Is my productive lifetime over? Will it all be just a waiting game–waiting to die? All these questions swirled around in my head.

Also part of this ferment was a long-time metaphor for the perceived terminus of one’s productive lifetime: the proverbial Gold Watch. When or if one lived to be 65 years of age, one’s employer presented you with a gold watch. From that day forward, you were no longer a worker bee. You were now officially old. But not to worry: the benevolent government would now take care of you in the short time-frame you had left. Blessed be Social Security.

You see, when Social Security was born during the traumatic FDR era, no one expected Americans to live much longer than 65: many would die before they reached 65. This is why it seemed such a safe life raft for our government to offer its citizens. No one then even dreamed that more and more Americans would be living into their seventies, eighties, nineties, and, gasp! hundreds! Prime reason why the Social Security program is today threatening the fiscal stability of our nation.

The mind-set back then was this: You have exceeded expectations: You have reached 65. This gold watch means you’re done. We’re putting you out to pasture. We expect no more work out of you. Rock away on your front porch until you have the good sense to die. Always remember that Social Security is short-term: we can’t afford to pay you for living much longer. Most certainly we don’t expect you to live past seventy! Goodness! Do you think you’re immortal!

This was the mind-set of my grandparents’ generation.

But the problem today is this: We have never developed a template for vibrant productive living beyond the Gold Watch.

I see this reality at every alumni weekend I attend. Classmates who have given up on productive living now that they’ve entered the Gold Watch period. They don’t admit this in words, but they most certainly articulate it in their actions! They’ve traded their heretofore active lifestyle for a meaningless sedentary one. They’ve given up on goals. You ask them what they’re doing these days, and they sigh, “Not much…. Watch TV, putter around, play a few holes of golf, babysit the grandkids–you know: the usual.”

You can tell they’re telling you the truth because physically and mentally they are rapidly falling apart.

Each of them is indeed just waiting to die!

Next week, July 16, we shall continue on this topic: BARELY BEGUN AT SEVENTY.
Copyright© 2014

 

THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL

BLOG #22, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL

May 30, 2012

 

 

 

Roger Ebert’s review of this new British film doesn’t begin to do it justice:

 

                                    Travel Comedy.  4 ½ stars.  PG-13.

                                    The hotel of the title is a retirement

                                    destination in India for “the elderly

                                    and beautiful.”  It has seen better days,

                                    and if you want to see what the better

                                    days looked like, just examine the

                                    brochure, which depicts a luxurious

                                    existence near Udaipur, a popular tourist

                                    destination in Rajasthan.  To this city

                                    travel a group of seven Brits with

                                    seven reasons for making the move.  As

                                    we meet them jammed on the bus from

                                    the airport, we suspect that the film will

                                    be about their various problems and that

                                    the hotel will not be as advertised.  What

                                    we may not expect is what a charming,

                                    funny and heartwarming movie this is,

                                    a smoothly crafted entertainment that

                                    makes good use of seven superb veteran

                                    actors. (Roger Ebert, Universal Uclick)

                                    124 minutes.

 

It is far more than a travel comedy.  As funny as many of the lines are situations are, undergirding it all is a serious premise.  It reminds me of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (ostensibly, merely a collection of stories told to each other by medieval pilgrims; but in reality, all Europe is being terrorized by a plague that is no respecter of persons or age groups.  It is a plague that strikes indiscriminately and suddenly: today you are healthy, tomorrow you are dying, often horribly).  Marigold Hotel is just as serious, beneath the humor and vibrantly alive scenery and people of India.  In truth, each of the seven Brits is in India for a reason.  In most cases it is for reasons each of us knows all too well: we are all dying, tied as we are to a terminal existence.  But what tortures us most is not the mere ceasing to breathe, but being marginalized, being pushed aside, having to dither in the grandstands of life watching the only players that matter fight it out.  Discovering how little our grown children need us any more—and by extension, the grandchildren as well.  Reallizing that all too often our children or others usurp control of our financial assets.  Ruefully becoming aware that we have inadequate resources to maintain the quality of life we are used to.

 

In times past, before the State assumed responsibility for the needs of its elderly, families took care of their own and lived together or in close proximity, intergenerationally.  In such a world, there were many contributions the elderly could make.  That is much less true in our age of separation of senior citizens from the day-to-day flow of those still active and creating products and services.

 

Another key dimension of the film highlights the aging protagonists’ continued yearning to be loved and cherished, for physical intimacy even though with lower wattage.

 

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” older people miraculously have their youth restored to them; at least that’s what they think, and act accordingly.  Since their restored youth is all illusionary the results are grotesque.  In Marigold Hotel, each character is all too aware of their aging, yet each still longs to have their aliveness, their youthful vigor, return—even if it be briefly or for but one last time.

                                                                                                                                                            Marigold Hotel, itself as aged and dilapidated as they, is an inspired setting.  The young Indian hotel owner/manager and his vivacious and lovely sweetheart provide intensity contrast to the lack of it in the guests.  Another layer of meaning is that the old hotel dates back to the days when the British ruled India, and the wisdom articulated then by such writers as Rudyard Kipling still resonating today in such immortal works as “If.”  Almost ironically the descendants of India’s erstwhile conquerors return in order to rediscover meaning in their lives.

 

Miraculously, the aged hotel proves to be a catalyst—not necessarily to a rebirth of youth for the characters, but to a prolongation of their sense of belonging, of camaraderie, of esprit de corps, of friendship, of being needed, of being given the opportunity to contribute again, of being respected again, and last but anything but least: a sense of renewed excitement with the dawn of each new day (in that sense, a rebirth of joie-du-vivre).

                                                                                                                                   

The one character who is unable or unwilling to accept the call of India, returns to England without her husband who—oh, you’ll just have to see and experience the film for yourself!

 

It is not a film young people would understand very well.  However, it is a must for every senior among us, and almost an equal must for all those older children and care-givers who interact with society’s seniors.  As to why, that is something each film-watcher will know for a certainty before the screen credits roll.

 

* * * * *

 

The film also segues beautifully with my May 9 blog on Tennyson’s “Ulysses.”

TREASURES OF THE PAST #3 TENNYSON’S “ULYSSES”

BLOG #19, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

TREASURES OF THE PAST #3

TENNYSON’S “ULYSSES”

May 9, 2012

 

Last week, in discussing our Book of the Month, Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Enoch Arden, I also referred to Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” generally considered to be the greatest poem on aging ever written.  It was so considered by three generations of our family, namely my maternal grandfather, Herbert Norton Leininger; my mother, Barbara Leininger Wheeler—and I have inwardly mined its wisdom all of my life.

 

The untimely death of his dearest friend and soulmate, Arthur Hallam resulted in a spiritual earthquake that permanently darkened Tennyson’s inner skies.  Not only did it result in the greatest ode in the English language, it also resulted in Tennyson’s writing a poem that almost defines the aging process long before its author reached his own twilight years.

 

Tennyson’s persona is no less a person than Ulysses, the lead character in Homer’s immortal Iliad and Odyssey.  Ulysses, who, after fighting the Trojans for ten years, roams the Mediterranean world for another ten years; only then, returning to his long neglected wife Penelope, and kingdom of Ithaca.  But Tennyson goes beyond Homer in this marvelous creation: a titan who finds “business as usual” impossible to endure after having lived and interacted so long with kings, queens, warriors, and Greco-Roman gods.  Indeed this restlessness has resulted in his rounding up all the surviving warriors who accompanied him on his sojourns and battles, and enlisting them in one last adventure, one from which none will return to Ithaca alive.

 

In this monologue, Ulysses explains to us the reasons why he is embarking on this third and last quest.  He has thought of everything and everyone (with the notable exception of his long-suffering wife Penelope); he has turned over the reins of government to his much more prosaic son Telemachus, and has his crew ready to launch out into the deep.

 

First of all, he explains to us all why he must go—his restlessness; his hunger to fully live again (not merely exist); his yearning for action; for fighting against overwhelming odds; for making a real difference in his interactions with all those he comes in contact with; for learning, for becoming, for experiencing, everything life and the gods may throw at him.

 

Then in the poem’s powerful conclusion, Ulysses details his personal Bucket List: all he hopes to accomplish before he and his mariners sail off into the sunset.

 

This is one of those poems that so grows on you that each year of your life that passes, the lines and imagery will embed deeper into your psyche.  In short, properly internalized, the poem will revolutionize the rest of your life.  At the least, post it on your wall, or, better yet, memorize it:

 

ULYSSES

 

It little profits that an idle king,

By this still hearth, among these barren crags,

Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole

Unequal laws unto a savage race,

That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel; I will drink

Life to the lees [dregs].  All times I have enjoyed

Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those

That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when

Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades

Vext the dim sea.  I am become a name;

For always roaming with a hungry heart

Much have I seen and known,—cities of men,

And manners, climates, councils, governments,

Myself not least, but honored of them all;

And drunk delight of battle with my peers,

Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;

Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough

Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades

For ever and for ever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!

As though to breathe were life!  Life piled on life

Were all too little, and of one to me

Little remains; but every hour is saved

From that eternal silence, something more,

A bringer of new things; and vile it were

For some three suns to store and hoard myself,

And this grey spirit yearning in desire

To follow knowledge like a sinking star,

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

 

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,

To whom I leave the scepter and the isle—

Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil

This labor, by slow prudence to make mild

A rugged people, and through soft degrees

Subdue them to the useful and the good.

Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere

Of common duties, decent not to fail

In offices of tenderness, and pay

Meet adoration to my household gods,

When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

 

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:

There gloom the dark, broad seas.  My mariners,

Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me—

That ever with a frolic welcome took

The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed

Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;

Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.

Death closes all; but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;

The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep

Moans round with many voices.  Come, my friends,

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Though much is taken, much abides; and though

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are:

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

—Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)