My wife retired this month after working 30 years as a city attorney. My retirement after nearly 40 years in journalism and public affairs is just around the corner, this spring.
Our two sons are 32 and 29. The elder son is a father. They are far beyond the point where they need advice on growing up. So how about advice on growing old?
Here’s a dandy dozen tips from the lesson tee of aging gracefully.
Make the bed right when you get up.
Sure, you’re mature people with a home of our own. But, trust me, making the bed helps set the tone for a productive day and jolts you into a mode of getting things done. It’s demoralizing to see that untucked bed mid-afternoon or to get into rumpled mass of sheets and covers at night.
Sure, you ski, play golf and take walks, but don’t forget to stretch. My wife has done an evening stretch for the last 30 years, and it really helps her energy level. Me? I need to do better job of it. My legs feel like Greek columns after walking nine holes.
Read out of your comfort zone.
With social media and myriad publications and online platforms, it’s easy to configure a lineup of like-minded articles, books and opinion pieces. Try regularly reading a well-reasoned piece that pushes hard against your beliefs. It’s a fine lesson in separate realities.
Talk to yourself.
On walks, when working, when sitting and doing nothing. Forming thoughts and reacting to the world around you makes whatever you’re doing even more engaging. If you’re taking the dog on a walk, include it in the conversation.
Repeat after me: It’s a great ole planet.
Anywhere, anytime, on any journey, long or short, look around and observe all the wonder and life around you. Trees, the animals, the people, the changing seasons. Be deeply rooted in where you are, because this is a special place if you just look around.
Seek out vistas – over lakes, meadows or urban landscapes.
Because, to quote a long ago poet from my family, Lucy Larcom. “I don’t own an inch of land, but all that I see is mine.”
Worship in the church of what’s happening now.
The past is gone, and the future is undefined. The one thing over which you can exercise control is what you do right now. So pay attention and drink in the moment. If you want further perspective on this, I recommend The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.
Learn a language.
Or two. Or three. Learn to think in another mode and with different spoken flourishes. I’m continually struck by the parochial nature of American society, of how many languages foreigners learn in school, most notably English, while we plod along in our monolingual ignorance.
You’ll be amazed at how three feet becomes six feet. I now can’t imagine jumping down to our front garden, which is all of three feet below our porch. How did my hips get so stiff?
Never humiliate anybody in front of somebody else.
This applies to talking to your spouse in front of your children. Your children learn more from watching you than hearing you. We had one overarching rule in the Larcom household: Never disrespect your mother.
Ask open-ended questions to your children.
Not “Did you have a good day at school?” to which the answer would be “Yes.” Rather, “tell me about the most interesting thing that happened to you today or this week.” This will teach your children to think in the narrative, and more actively process the amazing things that are going on around them every day.
Deeply. Actively. Turn off all your own thoughts and sink into what your children, friend, colleague or whoever is saying. Of all the skills I’ve sought to master in middle age and beyond, this is by far the most satisfying. The desire to be heard is profound in humans. Don’t interrupt. Don’t interject. Let whoever you’re with finish the thought, and then let a little silence ensue.
And with that, my sons, go ahead and get on with getting older. And don’t forget to take a nap now and then.