Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Body and Spirit--Young and Old

Some weeks after my mother moved into her apartment at the assisted-living home she would often say the only people who lived there were old people.  She did not view herself as being old even though she was, at that time, in her late eighties.  She ate breakfast, lunch and dinner with some “old ladies.”  She played Scrabble with some “old ladies.”  Was she in denial?  I don’t think so. I think she really did see herself as being younger than those around her because she did not have the kind of debilitating ailments and lagging spirits so many of the other residents were living with.

Larry Thompson in an article entitled “Age Won’t Kill You,” points out that it is not aging which makes us feel miserable, but disease, which needs to be understood and treated no matter what the age of the patient.  He gives an example of a ninety-five-year-old man who told his doctor that he had pain in his right knee, and that it hurt when he moved it:
   “The doctor looked at him and said, ‘You’re 95 years old.  You’re bound to have some pain in your right knee.  That’s what happens when you get old.’  
   But the man was smart.  He replied, ‘But my left knee is 95 years old too, and it’s just fine.’”

At three-score and ten plus four (74 and moving quickly toward 75) my dentist tells me that my receding gum-line is an “aging” thing.  The fifty-year-old doctor tells me “these things happen to us as we age.”   When these statements are made, I get a little concerned.  Are my problems being taken seriously as I age? Doctor Alex Comfort wrote, “‘Old’ people are people who have lived a certain number of years, and that is all.  If they have physical problems, so do younger people….As an ‘old’ person, you will need four things—dignity, money, proper medical services and useful work.  They are exactly the things you’ve always needed.”

Comfort continues,  “The real curse of being old is the ejection from a citizenship traditionally based on work.  In other words it is a demeaning idleness, nonuse, not being called on any longer to contribute, and hence being put down as a spent person of no public account, instructed to run away and play until death comes out to call us to bed….There is in fact marginally more chance of useful social involvement for an old person in a ghetto than for a retired executive pitched into a life of uninterrupted golf or reading paperbacks, who may not recognize that he has been sold a second, noncivic childhood along with the condominium key.”  Body and spirit are part of being old, just as body and spirit are part of being young.  

An elderly gentleman in Athens

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