On Aging

I’m getting old. No point in pretending otherwise.

I’m not complaining. The alternative to aging does appeal to me. But the gradual decay of the body is a challenge I wasn’t expecting and didn’t prepare for.

My approach to living is as youthful as ever. I’m very active. I spend my hours—never enough to get everything done—in writing, promoting my books, speaking publicly, taking care of my large house and yard, reading, and exercising (weight-lifting).

For years I was a runner and have always lifted weights, not for health reasons, but because I enjoy it. Then, five years ago, I had botched knee replacement surgery. Now I have trouble walking, and running is a thing of the past. But I still lift weights regularly. I can’t manage the heavy weights I used to when I was younger, but I lift a respectable amount.

The challenge of aging is that the body can no longer do everything it used to. I’m not as physically strong or agile as I once was. When I do a presentation that has me on my feet for more than an hour, my legs ache, and I have trouble walking. As a result of my lung cancer, I have a persistent cough, and I tire easily. That means I have to nap every day, whether I want to or not. Since I’m not as physically active as I used to be (e.g., no running), I have to watch my diet to avoid gaining weight.

But far and away the worst part of aging is the effect on the brain. Memory is the biggest problem. Typical was this morning when I heated myself a cup of coffee, did a few chores, then came back and heated another cup of coffee. I’d forgotten I already had a steaming cup waiting for me. I have trouble remembering the routes to various places I drive. And I have no recall for names.

But the odd aspect of aging is that as the brain slows, the mind becomes more expansive and resplendent. I can see, understand, process, and crystalize facets of being human far better than I ever could before. The new facility in thinking addresses primarily the nonmaterial aspects of living—creativity, morality, the nature of love, the breathtaking beauty that surrounds us.

Most important to me is that what I care about most—writing—is flourishing as never before. My use of language is better than it has ever been. I’m more facile with words and write faster than I once did. The right words come to me like flashes of lightening. I grasp and express connections and relationships I was blind to when I was younger.

So I have no complaints. As long as the mind grows and flourishes, the aging of the body is more than tolerable.

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