Alice Outwater, Ph.D., Contributor
Perhaps the title says it all about aging—both the interesting and the pesky things we must recognize and adjust to. I try to focus on the creative side and pull out every positive thing in difficult situations. This helps keep me centered and searching for solutions.
Whether we’re 70 or 90-plus years old we can count on physical and situational changes. The Life Stress List from the 1960s states life is 44 percent more stressful now than 50 years ago. How can we handle this successfully on an ongoing basis?
It’s essential to embrace agility, whether it’s about our health or business issues. With age physical changes are a given: slowing down, serious aches and pains and many more must simply be accepted. One good friend, a lifetime bird-watcher noticed his hearing was compromised and some months later learned he had lost all hearing in one ear. Nothing could be done to bring it back.
“Yes, it’s an enormous loss for me, but I still have my eyesight and will continue to search for birds all over the world.” I never heard one word of complaint from him after that.
Some people become wheelchair bound. This requires major help from a caretaker. Dementia or Alzheimer’s can creep in.
For those who can carry on with former activities, be grateful and think of everything else as minor inconveniences. Being able to tackle less each day is a nuisance, but hey, one can still live quite fully.
Travel is another matter but still might be possible to easier places. I take a walking stick for balance. I find if I can visualize each step—at the airports, during check-in, etc.—and am in a wheelchair provided by the airport, and the flights are not too long, I can handle it. I love being in airports—the hustle and bustle, and watching the captains and flight attendants disembark with their lively step and the smiles on their faces. It’s another world I enjoy being part of momentarily. The possibilities of where I might go!
However, during my recent trip to the Yucatan, they had closed the airplane doors three minutes early, before I had arrived. There was no negotiating: “The captain ordered it,” the gate agent said. This meant major changes of scheduling and added eight more hours to the trip. I prayed my body would hold up (it did), and I arrived safely on the last plane at midnight, in a raging rain storm.
Between you and me, I questioned whether I had stretched too far this time. I suppose I did, but the ensuing two weeks reconnecting with former friends and swinging in the hammocks under the coconut trees with balmy weather made it worthwhile. I must add I had gotten fully insured, so a last-minute cancelation meant no penalties.
The reality was I took some risks. The children were busy with their own lives, and the -15 cold here was so severe I was desperate to get to a milder climate. If I hadn’t known Maheka so well, I wouldn’t have attempted the trip. So in the end it did work out, and I returned refreshed of mind and spirit to carry me right into the weeks ahead. Now the daylight lasts longer and temperatures are moving upward, sort of. All this is a bonus.
One must think unusual adventures through carefully, get medical advice about the risks—and if still determined, then go for it. The odd thing was that when we reached Burlington and I was the last on the plane, I didn’t dare attempt the rickety steps off the plane. Having sat for some hours, I simply couldn’t do it. Two captains and three flight attendants waited cheerfully for me to get going.
In the end, two airport personnel moved an enormous long ramp to the plane, replacing the skimpy stairs, and with no steps to negotiate, I walked right down. Then a kind flight attendant insisted on getting my bag and taking me to a taxi. I mused: “Isn’t it too much to ask of others.”
I adore traveling and perhaps should discipline myself to just stay home.