I've realized recently that one of the frightening things about approaching middle age, is the clarity with which I can see what might happen toward the end of my life. Admittedly, it's not even something I considered for a long time, as I was more worried about approaching the horrors of being 40 versus 100 (because I will live to a vibrant 100 thank you very much).
It's a rite of passage that no-one ever talks about -- much like that horrible time in your early 20s, when you go from thinking you rule the world, to getting bitch slapped by life on a daily basis. I want to think that when my husband and I are in our twilight years, we will be in good health, we will have the freedom to travel the world and visit with our children and grandchildren whenever we please. As I and my peers start seeing our own parents reaching this point, we have to face the reality. That reality is that these dreams and frankly in my case assumptions, may not even be possible, and it's scary as hell. Aging in our country isn't pretty, and from what I can see, the older we get the more complicated our close relationships become.
I could write a lot about aging, and the many unexpected plot twists it all entails, but I will save that for another day. Despite all this uncertainty, I do have someone I want to highlight who makes me feel hopeful. It's my grandfather. He's 100. Yup. 100. It's an age few of us see, and if we do, it's safe to say that most of us will just be hanging on, "living" each day through in a haze.
My grandfather has lived a life full of joys, disappointments and accomplishments. He is now in a place where he is cared for daily by his family and professional health care providers. His hearing is just about gone, in addition to his eyesight. He has minor physical setbacks every few weeks, and sometimes ends up in the hospital. Small activities that we take for granted (like reading a few pages of the newspaper) can take hours. Frankly, he has every reason to retreat into an interior world of vibrant memories, and just let it go. But he's not doing that. Not by a long shot. It astounds me.
My mom recently shared a story where she went to visit him one morning after going to the gym, and told him that she did spinning and another exercise class. I won't divulge my mother's age here, but it's actually pretty cool that she's still so committed to her fitness. After telling my grandfather her achievements with some pride, he started in on his morning activities, which included reps with a bar to build chest and arm strength and about 20 minutes on his stationary bike. Did I mention that he's 100? He also recently made a new friend, and they are now having occasional breakfasts together and getting to know one another. I love this so much. He still loves learning and tries to read as much as he can, despite the fact that it can take hours using a special magnifier machine.
So, here is where I'm going with all this. I want you to know that my grandfather still is here. He's here, and he's decided that he is not ready to give up. His body is literally starting to shut down, and his days have been scaled back to the bare minimum of activities, but he's making the most of it. He's using the time he has left to find stimulation and joy wherever he can. He's keeping himself strong by looking outward, and finding his joy. He's doing it intuitively and because it feels good. That's it.
I find it so easy to get caught up in thinking to the past, thinking to the future, worrying, wishing that things could change. But -- what if the key to longevity and living your best life is finding the joy where you are? My grandfather has taught me many lessons, but I suspect that the way he's living right now will end up being the biggest. If I live to be 100, I want to be just like him.