Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

If I grow old before I wake . . .

The New Yorker had a fascinating article on aging, and how we (fail to) cope with it. ("The Way We Age Now," Atul Gawande, April 30, 2007.) The delusion of the young is that they will live forever; the delusion of the middle-aged is that they will never grow old. It seems conceivable to us that life will someday end; we make estate plans, buy life insurance, arrange for succession in our roles. But very few seem able to accept simple diminishment -- the fact that we will inevitably lose more and more of our physical and mental powers.

I think, ultimately, the ego finds death less threatening than diminishment. Why else would a "live hard, die young, make a pretty corpse" philosophy ever arise? We will readily embrace a kamikaze death if it establishes our eternal meaning and purpose, an expression of our being at it's highest state. But to diminish . . . to have our abilities robbed slowly, until we spend our days either dozing or shuffling around in confusion -- that is intolerable. And so we pretend it will never happen to us.

And while the evidence of anyone cheating death is sketchy at best, there are at least a few examples of individuals cheating age. We love to read about 90-year-olds running marathons or amassing fortunes or still having some decent looks. It gives us hope that with the right medicine, the right vitamins, and a little bit of luck we could live pretty much as we do now, our entire lives.

Alas, the exceptions are indeed exceptional. The best most of us can hope for is to postpone, not evade, the ravages of age. And while that might be something very good, it's not as much as we were hoping for. When we exercise and eat low-fat and go to the doctor, we want to be supermen in our eighties, not merely mobile and self-sufficient. But that's what you're working for: just hang on to the basics for as long as you can, because life gets very difficult once you lose them.

And the secrets to aging well are not exactly secret, either. It's the same things the doctor tells you to do now, and which you routinely ignore: get more exercise, eat more fresh vegetables, work on your flexibility, floss your teeth. And maybe a few things he doesn't tell you: stay involved, work as long as you can, avoid isolation, have lots of friends. If you find yourself saying, "I don't really have time for those things right now," remember that the time will come when you have nothing but time. Really . . . nothing . . . but time. Are you ready for that?

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Blogger Dr. Leonid Gavrilov, Ph.D. said...

Thank you for your interesting comments!
I thought perhaps you may also find this related post and a subsequent discussion interesting to you:
Longevity Science: The Way We Age

2:56 PM  

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