Monday, September 24, 2012

Growing as we grow old

On September 20, 2012, I celebrated my 70th birthday.  I asked my friends and family for advice on continuing to grow as I grow old.  I did receive some wonderful advice, some personal, written by that friend and others, wisdom from others.  Over the next few days, I will be sharing some great advice on my blog.  If you have some wisdom to share too, please do so in the comment area below.
Elul 28
Tight Rope Walking by Emily Levine
In my early twenties, I read an interview with Lillian Hellman. Midway through, Hellman became irate, brandishing her cane in the interviewer’s face. I thought: “I can’t wait until I’m old.” As it turned out, I didn’t wait long. In my mid-forties, I began a slow but relentless decline, including brain fog, fatigue, a weakened immune system, and osteoarthritis. Absent a diagnosis, I could only think: “I’m catapulting into old age faster than anyone in recorded history.”
By the time things had advanced enough for me to have a cane – but no energy to brandish it - I was resigned to life as an old person. Then – miraculously – I was diagnosed with acromegaly. All the symptoms I’d associated with old age were in fact caused by a benign tumor in my pituitary gland. Not only that, but the doctors promised, curative surgery could reverse the symptoms. I’d get my mind back, my energy back and my wit back. My skin would be smooth again. My hair would regain its luster. I thought: “I’m going to be young again!”
Eagerly, I looked in the mirror every day expecting to see myself as I was when the tumor first began. What I’d forgotten was that I was now twenty years older. So although in some respects I was growing younger, I was still growing old. I was growing older and younger at the same time! That’s when I had my epiphany: “So are we all.”
Biologically, we are in a continual process of degeneration and regeneration. The balance shifts as we grow older, but we are still part of that process. Focusing only on one side of the equation throws us off-balance. It’s not Lillian Hellman I want to emulate now; it’s Kurt Wallenda: tightrope walking between living and dying, growing older and younger, denial and hope.

Emily Levine has recently upgraded herself from philosopher-comedian to oracle.

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