Thoughts About Aging

One day five years ago, while I cruised the Internet, I found a website that used certain information about the reader to predict their life expectancy. I answered all the questions and learned I can expect to live to the ripe old age of ninety-two-and-a-half.

That is twelve years from now, give or take a few days. Or one hundred-forty-five-and-a-half months, or six hundred and thirty-three weeks, or four thousand, three hundred and twenty-nine days. That’s a lot of opportunities!

I’m in excellent health, so there’s a good chance I will beat even those odds. That’s encouraging. I used to go to a Saturday morning Yoga class. There were a number of ninety-plus women in there, and they gave me a run for my money when it came to doing those exercises. That, too, made me feel optimistic.

I think “aging” is pretty much a matter of how you think and where and how you look. Until about two years ago, I thought of myself as a twenty-three year-old. Now, my initial, fleeting, thought is I am thirty-seven. My visual picture of myself, still, is the “girl” my first husband met when I was almost twenty-four. I get a big surprise when I look in the mirror. In truth, if I don’t look carefully right away when I look in a mirror, I do not see myself as I actually look now. It is as if I must clear away the young girl. I don’t think this is “foolish,” or “bad,” or “crazy.” I think it is one way I remain lively and energetic.

Another place to look is your calendar. If it is empty, so are you. Yes, you might “enrich” yourself by reading, even, perhaps, by watching television or doing puzzles but, if you do not truly interact with other people, that enrichment will become so much waste material.

Consider those people with whom you do interact. How old are they? Are they your age? Older? Younger? Why do you think you are attracted to them? For many years, now, I’ve had two distinct groups of friends. The members of one group, mostly women, are about five years older than I. These are the friends with whom I share both commiseration about the miseries of old age we all experience and fond memories of past decades, with a generous smattering of tales about grand- (and great-grand-) children. 

The second group, which for most of the past four decades has included more men than women, is made up of folks who are about fifteen years younger than I. We share interests in music, building things, science (with emphases on computers and aerospace), and books on many subjects, all written by exceptionally good authors. 

Last, but not least, my fourteen-year-old autistic great-nephew recently entered my life with persistence and a variety of interests to explore. He’s a keeper, too. Maybe he’s the harbinger of a new group of compatible souls? 

A good sense of humor is required, and characteristic, of all my friends.

Finally, look to the place where you find whatever it is that you know as spiritual connection. Some follow a proscribed system of beliefs and practices; others commune with nature; some claim no spirituality, but find communal spirit in the company of like-minded others. Whatever the form of connection, your relationship with it—the strength of your experience, the frequency of your conscious practice and, most important, the expression of it in your everyday life—becomes, in the final analysis, the ultimate summation of your entire life. It is how you will be remembered.

Review of Teacher by Sylvia Ashton-Warner

Today I introduce a book in a review about five books, but especially about one of them, Teacher. The author is Sylvia Ashton-Warner, an English woman who went to New Zealand to teach five-year old children for two years and, instead, stayed there for the rest of her life. The main story of the five books is of romance but perhaps the stronger story is of her work with the Maori children. 

It is difficult to say who benefits most from that work—Ms. Ashton-Warner, the children, or the reader of the books. Ms. Ashton-Warner is a gifted writer; there’s no doubt about that. She was a gifted teacher, too, a teacher who instinctively understood that these children lived in a time and space, a world, entirely different from that she’d left behind. The rigid, proscribed and goal-driven methods of teaching would not, could not work within the Maori context. She must begin where these children were, and work from there. Not only that, she must do so for each child, not for the class as a whole. Each life, even by age five, was unique in experience and interpretation of reality.

Ms. Ashton-Warner listened to each child. She created a set of cards for each child. She asked the child for a word, then another. She added those words to that child’s set of cards. As time went on, they added more words; so grew each stack of cards. That set of words became that child’s Key Vocabulary. The Key Vocabulary was easily read; it rapidly became the basis of early writing. From that set of building blocks, work in other subject areas developed.

There’s not time and space here to do justice to Ms. Ashton-Warner’s insight and method. I encourage you to find and read a copy of Teacher. You will soon understand that this woman instinctively understood what most of us who love and work with people with autism learn as a way to teach them that quite often works, and works well. As one such parent, I can say only that I know this well. Before I read her book, I had done most of the things she did, and they worked for my son and me. I haven’t her talent as an author, but I can, and do, recommend a good story, a good read, and a good result when I see them!

My Earliest Memory

It is very dark. I am lying on my back in my crib. I have said all the words I know but one. I cannot remember one word. I say them all again, but the same word still will not come to me. I try again. Mommy, who always tells me the word I cannot remember, is in the next room. I know that, because it is dark and she is always there when it is dark. But she is not telling me the word.

I say all the words again, still missing the one.

Mommy speaks. “Hush!” she says. “Be quiet. Go back to sleep!”

She does not tell me the missing word.

I am upset and frustrated.

Why doesn’t she tell me the word like she always does? What is wrong? How will I know what it is? Is it lost forever? What if I lose more words before she tells me?

I cannot go back to sleep. I think, “If I were big, I would help, even in the dark.”

I was ten months old. My mother recorded the event in my Baby Book, which I still have.

About Self-Pity

Here’s something our (girls) mothers never told us: One of a man’s most important characteristics is his capacity to feel sorry for himself.

Girls should be trained to observe, query, and rate all prospective mates on this trait before serious involvement with them. It is more important than material wealth, good looks, appreciation of good cooking, compatibility in areas of thinking and feeling, desire to have children, political position, educational level, job ranking, income, types of entertainment enjoyed, love-making ability, or any of the other traits women are taught are important.

Men cannot “let go” of past hurts; each hurt serves as kindling for the fires of current felt pain and tribulation. The more past hurts there are, the greater the burden of self-pity becomes, until—finally—the poor sod cannot sustain even a pretense of a relationship in the present. He views it as yet another failure he can add to his list of reasons for which he feels sorry for himself.

Self-pity can make or break a relationship. The more willing a man is to wallow deeply in self-pity, the less willing he is to invest himself in an on-going relationship of any nature. That’s all there is to it.

Oh, the stories I could tell …. But then I would sound like a man, wouldn’t I?

Actually, I’m pretty sure the same things can be said of women. But I’m not talking about women, right now. Another day, maybe?