A WINTER’S REFLECTION
A Personal Perspective on Aging and Spirituality
By Bob Koches
It was in the summer of our lives when Kathy and I were full of energy and had all our hopes and dreams in front of us.It was during this time we went to visit Kathy’s sister and brother-in-law in Boca Raton, Florida. We needed a place to stay and they arranged a room for us at a placed called The Boca Teca Hotel. Unbeknownst to us, this was the hotel associated with a Jewish retirement community. Our first clue was when they delivered the daily paper under our door and it was in Hebrew.
The first morning we woke up, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and headed for breakfast. As we reached the elevator we were joined by a little old Jewish man, about 5 feet tall, bent over and using a cane. Being polite, we wished him a good morning and asked, “How are you today?” He replied, “Alive, thank God, another day!” We of course were very bemused and thought it was a humorous answer.
Now we are in the winter of our lives, and I think a lot about that phrase: “Alive, thank God, another day!” It has stayed with me for over thirty years. Each day I contemplate its meaning. It is a profound and constant reminder to me that we are on a journey and that journey is finite, and that every moment is precious.
Satchel Page asked, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” I agree with Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said: “Old age is fifteen years older than I am.”
A friend of mine asked a group of us if anyone else felt that they were now limited in what they can do; that they can’t run as fast or do some of the physical activities they once did, and we all agreed that this was so. I always think “I can’t scamper up those pyramids anymore like I once did.” I don’t walk as fast as I did a couple of years ago, but I still do walk.
As I get older, I have discovered, that I and probably most of us just don’t have the energy that we did when we were younger. That means that we need to be more selective about where we expend time and energy. This can open doors for creativity and new experiences, but it can also dissuade us from trying something new. Of course, if the changes in our bodies prevent us from doing something we have enjoyed in our earlier years, we may be more open to trying new things that require less energy or stamina.
I think this idea is summed up well in a song by Peter Mayer:
“I’m like one of those Japanese bowls that were made long ago.
I have some cracks in me. They have been filled with gold.
That’s what they used back then when they had a bowl to mend.
It did not hide the cracks. It made them shine instead.
So now every old scar shows from every time I broke.
And anyone’s eyes can see I’m not what I used to be.
But in a collector’s mind all of these jagged lines
make me more beautiful and worth a much higher price.
I’m like one of those Japanese bowls. I was made long ago.
Some cracks you can see. See how they shine of gold.”
No matter our age, our infirmities, that which we are, we are, which is to stay still human, and thus still hungry for having meaning and purpose to our lives. Each day brings challenges and possibilities. Just moving through the day is a journey, and we end in a different place than we began; as a different person than we were.
At age 70, or 80, or 90 it means approaching the break of day as though it were the first morning. It means hearing the birdsong, as if it was the first bird. It means encountering every day as a re-creation of the first, just as glorious, fresh and beautiful. That newness and sense of adventure comes from being able to see possibilities opening up; to know the rose will open, to see options to choose from, even as there is a sense of life’s limitations and finitude drawing closer.
I am also seeking more mindfulness; finding time just to “be,” to savor the basic pleasure of being alive, the special qualities of changing light and sky, the beauty of the natural world, though I admit that more often my busyness thwarts this instinct. I know that this is a key to staying fully alive and engaged, when physical horizons are forced to narrow. I have a great teacher in practicing mindfulness and living in the moment, my little dog, Queri. She is always there, right at that moment, no matter what we are doing, fully focused, fully engaged, not thinking of the past, nor looking toward the future; just being, reminding me of Robert Ingersoll’s quote:
“The place to be happy is here; the time to be happy is now.”
No matter how curmudgeonly we may want to be, we are called to interact with others in ways that show respect, evidence mature levels of responsibility for our actions and result in acceptance, love and justice towards others. No matter how old we get to be, no matter what the circumstances of our aging and dying, I believe that within our relationships with other people and through our unique experience of being alive, flashes of insight, moments of healing and transformation are always possible.
I encourage people to stay open to the fullness of experience, whether sorrowful or joyful, and the wisdom that will yet come to them, for through those deeply felt experiences, their life will be changed and made richer -- if they allow it to be.
To quote George Burns, who lived to be 100 years old, “You can’t help getting older… but you don’t have to get old.”
Albert Einstein summed it up perfectly: “Life is a preparation for the future; and the best preparation for the future is to live as if there were none. Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we were born.”
Our journey that is aging, that is living, is here and now for every one of us. It is not only about how we think about our life, it is about how we live our life. Feet on the ground. Eyes and ears open. We can practice and learn seeing one another – really seeing. Listening to one another – really listening, without judging, without fixing, without imposing ourselves on someone else. That not only transforms the world, but also transforms us. Take a moment now, in stillness, in silence, to stop. To pay attention not just to where you are going, but also to where you are, and to the gift that is being just there.