Charles Darwin once wrote, “It is not the strongest of a species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
I am by no means a Darwinian evolutionist (sounds ominous) but that statement makes sense to me. From my current Robinson Crusoe (remember him?) take on life, I am convinced that change is a constant. The “three C-s” I was told were coming my way as I age — Cataracts, Cancer and Change — have all arrived as foretold. Now either I handle each of them or they will handle me.
As with Robinson Crusoe, Super-Seniors are living in a world like none they had previously known and, worse yet, it is constantly changing and in such unpredictable ways. It reminds me of the best car I ever owned, a 1970 Volvo. I grieved when I finally had to let it go not because the engine, the ignition system or the transmission failed. They were sturdy to the end. I had to get rid of it because as the car aged, I couldn’t keep up with the down time and the cost of replacing quarter-sized seals, tiny electric connectors and endless crucial small rubber parts that didn’t cost much themselves but were crucial to continued driving.
Much the same thing happens to our bodies as we age. Cartilage we ignored through our earlier life as it protected our joints wears paper thin and dissolves. Further, all our five basic senses weaken as we age calling us to buy hearing aids, better eyeglasses and one or more safety devices for seniors.
Now my latest. Have you ever heard of “Sensory Neuropathic Cough”? After years of preaching full voiced a dozen or more times a week I would suddenly start coughing in uncontrollable spasms. I thought it was bronchitis or a growth. Wrong. After the doctor fed a small video camera into my nostril and down my throat (yes, that can be done) I watched SNC as it did its thing. One suggested treatment involved an $800 a month prescription that has helped some who deal with SNC – and thousands of Super-Seniors do. My own “50 cent solution” is to stop teaching. So, at 90 years of age I am no longer able to serve the half dozen classes a week I have been serving for the last ten years. That is an example of change at work on a massive scale for me, for the five classes and for the parish that now must find replacements.
I’m not telling you all this to vent a personal problem or seek sympathy. I share this experience in response to Charles Darwin’s observation that the survivors in life do so by making changes, some large, some small. I am a survivor as are five great classes that have already made adjustment and Trinity parish itself. All will change, survive and thrive.
For years when I’ve shared upside-down life stories in Just Watching I’ve been encouraged to do so by “me-too-messages” responses I’ve had from readers. I don’t cough as I report my experiences, so I write instead of speak even though I also produce a lot of two-finger typos. My experiences may all be new to me, but they are obviously not unique. To varying degree the nearly 500,000 Super-Seniors in the USA deal with one or more of the same physical-mental-emotional “worn out parts” that affect the post 85 years. Previously inexperienced loneliness crops up without warning. New kinds of ailments, major or minor, claim you as a latest victim. Uncertainty about the future is a constant as are a myriad of other changes that pop up unannounced as we grow older.
Some dismiss any or all of that as just more end-of-life-issues. OK. Maybe. If they say so. But I come at them as end-of-life-realities which call me and my peers to pay attention to what’s happening and focus on life to its fullest as we head for home.
As I do so four items, guided by the Spirit and Scripture based, come to my mind. They want my attention. Yours, too.
Item One: There’s more in Scripture about living life effectively as a Senior and Super-Senior than any other age segment in life. Did you realize that? It strikes me that God knows that I – you, too – need all the help we can to make the most of our numbered days. There’s a reason God called to full time service OT people like Abraham, Moses, Miriam and Sarah and many others when they were well into their 80s. He’s not done with us just because we are long in the tooth.
Item Two: Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 very specifically lays out what had been going on in the life of Seniors and Super-Seniors in the distant past. Solomon’s view of it looks depressing and all downhill. About all people could do as life deteriorated over time was bear up under deteriorating change and turn to for help to whatever balms, potions and remedies they found through experience or in nature. Before the 18th century there was not much that could be done with worn out human parts or their perceived inevitability. But with the 19th century things changed dramatically as Gerontology in all its glory exploded on the scene introducing wondrous medical discovery after medical discovery. Together they set the stage for health, healing and hope in our new and different world.
Item Three: There’s no reason today for dreary talk about being “over the hill”. God’s children today are to attack life at every stage as they say and to love in every way they can imagine for as long as they are able. I am inspired by what the many Seniors and Super-Seniors are saying and doing who love it here at Windsor Park and at my home parish to say nothing about doing so in their families and various communities.
Item Four: I have a special concern akin to that of Solomon. He wrote Ecclesiastes with all its remarkable insights and advice to coming generations about making the most of their moment but his opening sentence of chapter 12 is an unabashed appeal to those who are young and just starting out in life: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.” That’s his way of saying, “With the Lord begin thy task…”, the hymn those of us who at 12 years of age were preparing for service to the Lord in the church. The question I till struggle with as a Super-Senior is, “What can I do to help those who are young see, accept and delight in how their Father in heaven cares for them?”
Truth to tell that’s the same question I ask each day about how to best help my Super-Senior peers care for themselves and others who they love.
For myself, I start each morning by walking through Psalm 103. What a way to start the day or end it, too!