An excerpt from our soon-to-be-published book, (working title) Journey Well, Mindset Matters.
The condition or process of deterioration with age. Loss of a cell’s power of division & growth.
In just over nine months, I’ll be 75 years old. In the middle of writing our new book, number 2 in the Journey Well series, I’m drawing from current life realities for the chapter in progress. Our book has the working title Journey Well, Mindset Matters. We chose that tentative title as a play on words: We claim that mindset does in fact Matter, and also because the book centers around Matters of Mindset.
Clear is better than clever. We get that. But in this case, we felt the double meaning was warranted because, depending on their mindset, our favorite readers will read the title and nod in approval and understanding. Thank you, favorite readers. We appreciate you.
So, why a chapter on senescence? Mindset offers an explanation, and though there is no real connection from Latin for that word, the senses are involved as well. Senses being linked to mindset, we explore the effects of age on mindset matters and the seeming depletion of certain faculties.
Take hearing, for a start using my own situation as an example. My hearing has deteriorated considerably in the recent past. Eyesight (is there another kind of sight?), this, too, has faded. My senses of smell, taste, and touch have remained relatively intact, I think. And speaking of thinking, my mental acuity is very slightly diminished, though that may be an assessment coming from me, so casually solipsistic. Ask Mariah. I’m reasonably certain that’s her name.
I’ve learned to consider my physical and physiological losses and diminishment differently than I might have years ago when those faculties were at their peak. Here are a few examples.
Anecdotally, on my acquisition of hearing aids a while ago, I was self-conscious, wary of comments, and cautious to hide the devices lest I be considered old.
Hearing loss has happened. My ability to hear what’s necessary for an amazing quality of life has not. These days, often with intense clarity, I hear what is not said, and what’s shouted between the lines. Though the rumble of modern life, and 40+ years operating grappling, grating flying machines has robbed me of immediate hearing, in my latent deafness I now understand better than ever the precious and inviting blanket of silence. I cherish the enticing muffle and creak of the empty house, the soul-satisfying song of a raucous Jay on my feeder, and the faint and fading wail of a far-off freight train. Anecdotally, on my acquisition of hearing aids a while ago, I was self-conscious, wary of comments, and cautious to hide the devices lest I be considered old. Well…hello! The silver lining (great metaphor!) is this: The devices come with an app that allows me to turn them off! Do I use this feature? Does Georgia grow peaches?
My visual acuity has been in decline for years. By age 40 I sported lines across my glasses. Like my wallet and car keys, I knew not to leave the house without my spectacles. But…my discernment of things worth seeing, and my ability to look more deeply than ever inside, over, through, under, and beyond those things has improved. Plus, I can more easily see the hidden meanings, the shimmering, unsubtle signals sent by others who need more than ever to be seen. No one wishes to lose their sight; No one wishes to be unseen, either. I’m now better able to see those sidelined individuals. In addition, after 74+ circles of the sun, I can attest that my perspective is leagues better than it once was, and this is truly a gift of age.
My tastes have changed, whether from age or discernment, I don’t know. I no longer enjoy beer and wine all that much, and I’ve not eaten meat, fish, eggs, or dairy for years. But what I do consume leaves me much more satisfied, and more nutritionally enhanced than ever. Having abandoned animal protein for a more efficient and less harmful kind I’m quite pleased to say that my new menu choices are far tastier, and more satisfying due to its previously unexplored variety, and my belief that it does less harm to me and the planet.
As for non-food tastes, the various contingencies of life deeply satisfy me. Such things as good conversation, camaraderie with compatible colleagues, reading, writing (of course), (‘rithmetic not so much), and the natural gifts provided by environmental serendipities grow in their appeal every day.
Nothing captivates me more than a great conversation with a whip-smart friend. I’m thrilled to report that I happen by great good fortune to be married to such a person, thus surrounded by delightful dialogue daily.
Despite my auditory deficit, I appreciate music much more now. The 9th symphony of Dvoräck, Beethoven’s 3rd Eroica, Grieg’s Peer Gynt, Mahler, Mendelsohn, and Barber’s adagio for strings, all sublime, and sweeter than ever somehow. Perhaps Beethoven’s own deafness informed and enhanced his later works?
As my days grow short I have few regrets, but one of them is lack of time for great literature. Dickens, MacAulay, Faulkner, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Dillard, Melville, Steinbeck, and the canon’s other bright lights have gifted us with their genius. I’ve only dabbled, sad to say. I do read Moby Dick once a year and gain new insight every time into Melville’s genius. Sorry, Mr. Joyce, I’ve tried to muddle through Ulysses. I really have. But time is short; I must let go of Mr. Dedalus and his day in Dublin. I wish him well.
Iowa is as freaking cold as a well-digger’s tuchas in the winter. But if there’s a place with more majestic, soul-stirring sunsets I’m hard-pressed to know where it might be. I’ve seen a double rainbow on the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. I’ve flown inside a volcano crater bathed in waterfalls, cruised across moonlit, snow-covered Iowa at midnight with a traumatized patient beside me. I watched one of those patients leave the hospital vertically when their diagnosis promised a horizontal departure. (Remind me to tell you my ‘Daniel’ story, it’ll give you goosebumps.) I’ve seen the lowest attributes we humans possess. But I’ve seen the highest as well, and I remain hopeful.
The conundrum is this: Along with my failing, fading faculties, has come an enhancement of attention, focus, and gratitude. How to explain this? I can’t, but the puzzle it poses does make a certain sense. The solution lies in using what’s left to its top while ignoring what’s below, and best let go of.