Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Curse of Aging--Part I - Narrowing Places

I described in my opening post, about the has-been movie star having an epiphany about being old. The experience was abrupt and final. Her life was defined as before and after the event of the epiphany.

I think my experience has been more typical, where a serious of events happen that brings home the truth of the loss of youth.

I can remember clearly the first time this type of event occurred in my life. It was when I was of the young age of 26. Denise and I were watching the 1984 winter Olympics (Sarajevo) on TV each night and I suddenly felt the loss of the fact that I would never be an Olympian. I know it sounds silly and Denise certainly thought so at the time, but it was very real.

It wasn’t like I had been in training for the Olympics. I had just taken up Nordic skiing, but I never, even in my wildest fantasies imagined that could even ski competitively even on a high school circuit. But it was the realization that doors were starting to close as I got older.

When you are a little boy (and probably the same applies to little girls) you are often taught that the whole world is yours for the taking. You can be a brain surgeon, if you so want. You can be a pilot, start the next Microsoft, be president of the United States . . . or you can be an Olympian athlete . . . only if you set your mind to it and work hard.

But for me, the very first time that I realized that aging meant the loosing of opportunities, seemed to be a profound event.

Recently a study was published (and mentioned in the public media) that showed the lowest point in one’s life—in regards to happiness—is around age fifty. Oddly, it improves from that point until the end of someone’s life. The happiest people, so it seems, are those over seventy. The reason it was suggested that 50 is the most depressing age is because that is when the realization of the loss of dreams and fantasies . . . many will indeed go unfulfilled in this lifetime.

I know that I will be eventually relating this to evangelicalism; however, I once had a discussion like this on a secular, medical forum. I was a little surprised how disappointed in me some people were when I spoke this way. They quoted all kinds of modern clich├ęs about “never stop dreaming,” (or was that a lyric to a song they were quoting?). But there is this motivational-speaker type of pop-psychology which gives society this false hope (if you wonder what I’m referring to, go back and watch Little Miss Sunshine again and listen carefully to Olive’s dad.)

I remember specifically saying on that forum that I had given up and dream of climbing Mount Everest but I did still have a dream of reaching base camp. This one gal lectured me how “You will always be a failure because you don’t dream for the top.” So secular thinking is a farce on this topic as well. At a time like this I would love to share a beer or coffee with either Solomon or Caulfield. But I did, to my surprise, almost reach Everest base camp last year fare before I thought I ever would (Nepal wasn’t even on my radar when I had that original discussion).

A number of years ago, when I first started to enter the mid-life crises phase of my life, I attempted to write a novel that captured what this struggle is like for men. It was about two friends, one verbally distressed about growing older and the other was the stoic guy who seemed to have no concerns about anything, yet deeply he was much more distressed. For their one last attempt of fulfill a juvenile fantasy, they attempted (on a shoestring budget) be the first to fly a balloon around the world. The only balloon that they could afford was an old “Underdog” balloon from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, which they bought off of E bay. Anyway, that manuscript fell into the trash bin of along with my many other writings.

The point is, when I tried to come up with the title for this novel, I chose “Narrowing Places” because this best reflects this process of growing older and seeing your options growing more and more limited. So the first point of growing older is the loss of opportunities. I think that is significant. It means, a point will come when you realize that you will never do X, or be Y or see Z. Somehow all of this fits into the concept of the fall. We are not living the way we were designed to live. We were created for eternity, yet we must live in the temporal and that is where the tension (a polite word for “shit”) exist.

This first area is probably the lessor of pains associated with aging.


PRS & ALS said...

My 3 year old grandson told me the other day, "Grandma, we should get rid of you" I asked him why he said that and he replied, "Because you're old." This is the feeling I got reading your 2 blogs about aging. We might as well give up and hide out until we die, after we reach a certain age. I certainly think we must be realistic when we get older and there are things that realistically we can't or shouldn't perhaps do. But I've found that my options haven't necessarily narrowed but have changed. I've found new options that weren't available before or that I wasn't bold enough or mature enough to take on. Fortunately I have relatively good health right now although my energy level isn't what it used to be. But, I think as we seek God's guidance for our lives and don't see the last years of our lives as just putting in time amazing opportunities can come our way.

I do want to say I thoroughly enjoy and am challenged by your blogs. Always food for thought. I even have it bookmarked.


MJ said...

Ouch! Reminds me of when my son said that he hoped to live to only 30 (he was about 15 at the time) because, "After 30 life is worthless."

I had to firmly disagree with him. I told him, that I bet when he was 29 he would see things much differently.

No, you are right. There is a flip side to getting older and I think that's why the happiest age is about 75.

I remember reading Plato's Republic a long time a go. In the story, as you may remember, Plato is speaking as Socrates and meets a very old man. I will use my paraphrase and say that Socrates asked the old man why he found any joy in living anymore. The old man commented that one great benefit that the (distracting) fire of emotions that burned in his belly was now out. Now he could see the world better and think more rationally.

But, the point of this and upcoming posts is not sugar-coat the real loss that we all feel as we age. I just want to create a place where people can come and feel that it is okay to grieve about a real loss . . . without becoming obsessed with it.

PRS & ALS said...

I love your blogspot because it is a place where we can be real and not pretend.

Yes, there are many things to grieve as we age, things we regret and need to release. But for me, the latter half of my 50's has been a time of coming into myself and actually wanting to live for the first time in my life. When I was in my late 30's I began a process of recovering repressed memories of sexual abuse which took me down a very dark road. Much of the time I did not want to live or only wanted to live because of what the alternative would do to my husband and children. So, for me, I experienced a rebirth in my early 40's and began discovering my authentic self. (So maybe I'm only about 20 now...) I've grieved the "lost" years and what might have been. I've grieved the abuse and the affect it had on me and on my family. I realize that I can't go back and do it over. But I will make the best of every day I have left. Each day is new and presents new and often exciting adventures and opportunities. I don't want again to ever sink into the depression and death wish days as I did before. So, yes, there are times I cry over what might have been and over ways in which I missed out. But, for the most part, I feel that my life here on earth will not end until I take my last breath.

Wow! I can't believe I'm writing this. It actually energizes me and motivates me to write this and to voice these things.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share these ideas.

MJ said...

If you read some of the things, which I have written, you will know that nothing is off limits here and grace abounds.

Government Funded Blogger said...

"Recently a study was published (and mentioned in the public media) that showed the lowest point in one’s life—in regards to happiness—is around age fifty."

I haven't heard of that study but in my own situation I never felt that way at 50 and 23 years later I still dont.I did tell my sons when asked that the things that disturbed me at 40 didnt at 50 and things that bothered me at 50 didnt at 60 and so on.

Aging is part of our journey to the Lord. We make of it what we can.

NOTAL said...

"This one gal lectured me how “You will always be a failure because you don’t dream for the top.” So secular thinking is a farce on this topic as well."

This reminded me of the Radiolab episode Deception which I listened to recently. (If you have not listened to Radiolab, it is an amazing radio show that goes really in depth into a wide variety of topics.) The last story from this episode explores self deception. These researchers gave a group of swimmers a test of embarrassing questions to determine how honest they are with themselves. It turns out that the more dishonest the people were with themselves, the faster they swam. Apparently this is because those who are able to lie to themselves and believe things like "I'm the fastest swimmer in the world", tend to perform better.

I generally hate dishonesty, so this study revealing that self-deception can actually be advantageous doesn't sit well with me. I don't really know what to think of the study or self deception now.

Believing that you could still summit Mt. Everest may be believing a lie, but believing that lie might significantly increase your (slim) chances of actually climbing it. Is it worth giving up reality for the chance to achieve your fantasies?

MJ said...

I've heard of the radiolab but not have heard it. Interesting about the influence of self-deception.

I guess I'm a realist at all cost. I prefer the "Red Pill."