Having recently attained a significant age, I found myself with cause to reflect on the differences in perception I have experienced as time has passed. By no means am I ready to reserve a place in “Happy Valley,” ready to eat only soft foods and plan my schedule around bingo and mahjongg gatherings. Au contraire, I still play eighteen holes of gold whenever possible, engage in meaningful exchange with my recumbent bicycle and consider myself vibrant and cogent.
However, one measurement of time’s effects can be journeys to several everyday experiences in which I find myself reacting or responding in much different ways than I did twenty or thirty years ago. Perhaps they are illuminating, reassuring or amusing observations. If not, they maintain my brain’s agility and allow me to feel grateful that I still have the ability to ponder my apparent improvements.
The first example included a short plane trip experienced in the seat ahead of a tall and apparently unconscious traveler. How did I know that he was tall? By virtue of my surreptitious standing to locate the closest restroom. In years past I can imagine my frustration and annoyance at having my seat incessantly kicked by my fellow passenger. But somehow I’ve become more forgiving, more tolerant or less irate. My conclusion (early into the flight) was that his kicking my seat was probably done more out of necessity than intention. I awarded myself an invisible medal of valor for having silently endured the seat-battering.
Another example was observed during the trip to Disneyland on a very hot, very crowded, Labor Day weekend. Impatience is pervasive in such a place ‘” parents with their kids, kids with their parents and everyone with waiting in line. Yet again, being in a hurry or being annoyed was not an option that occurred to me. Ironic that as I surely have more years behind me than ahead, time has not been nearly the priority that its limited availability might suggest. Instead, I found it most inspiring to observe children being children, happy or otherwise, feeling that the world would eventually be in good hands.
Experiencing a marathon creates a new opportunity for wonderment. I am certain that any discomfort at waiting through an event that I might have experienced in another life was immediately mitigated by the fact that my son was one of the runners. Beyond that, however, I allowed myself to cheer for everyone who finished, often observing their pleasure derived from the encouragement. Marathons are about those who compete and experience the joy or exhilaration of crossing the finish line. Realizing this, I knew that my only role was to be a cheerleader. If there is a way to grow into a marathon, I believe that it is to celebrate in a way that youth and its corresponding impatience don’t allow.
And finally, I’ve recently had occasion to spend a number of days visiting a local hospital, a venue that surely provides triggers for profound reflection, gratitude and nurture. Admittedly, many years have passed since I spent as much time in as grave a situation as this one. My reactions were intrinsically quite different at this chapter of my life. The nurses were caring and compassionate, the doctors were patient and articulate and the food was tolerable if not reportedly tasty. As a patient or a visitor in the past, I can say with certainty that the environment was previously oppressive, the nurses annoying and the ambiance chilly. Is all this to say that time renders us more tolerant? Perhaps.
At no time did I anticipate that aging would create any specific effects other than wrinkles and decreased stamina. I suspect that my passion for seniors is in some way supported by the conviction that aging deserves more than being filed away as obsolete. An exercise in vision is certainly intended, that when we spend time absorbing life rather than battling or protesting it, everyone benefits. As part of my legacy, whenever it may be delivered, my observations are intended not to be a sermon but as a lesson. For those who are listening, young or old, I hope as always for a shred of wisdom that can be shared.