Thursday, March 31, 2011

Aging Gracefully

I called my Aunt Lil, my father's sister, this week to wish her Happy Birthday on her ninetieth birthday. Many of us have relatives and friends in this age category if not older, but she is an astounding specimen in my opinion. First of all, she has never worn glasses, used a cane, had hearing or speech problems, neither has she suffered from hereditary diseases, loss of mental faculties or degenerative illnesses. In fact, she has never taken medication. She is certainly as lucid as anyone I know and maybe even more so than myself. She takes care of herself and her home in Atlanta, where two of her daughters share the house with her. She is as feisty as ever and still amazingly beautiful for a woman of any age.

When we spoke she said to me, “I went to see my doctor recently for a physical, and he told me he had to speak with me. And I thought to myself, ‘What’s wrong with me now?’ ” In her slight twang from Kentucky, that she hadn’t quite lost even after living in Japan and in the northeastern US for years, she continued, “Well Gleenn…he told me to come into his office and sit down. Then he said, ‘Mrs. Tackett…as you know I have been a doctor for many years…and so I have had many patients that are in your age group. However…I have NEVER had one that did not have at least something wrong with them that I had to attend to.’ She chuckled, "He then said, 'I can’t even offer you any medication because there’s nothing wrong with you.’“ Then she burst out laughing, me right along with her, about as happy and proud as I could be.

This kind of dovetails with what she said when I saw her about five years ago. She had told me about how once a doctor had given her some medication to take. After her return visit to him, she told him “’I don’ like takin' medicine.” The doctor asked her ‘Why?’ and she said, “I don' like how they make me feel…and then you run out and have to refill them all the time.” To which he said, ’Well, here is a larger prescription so that you don’t have to refill them that frequently.” She went on, “So I took the prescription, and when I got outside, I tore it up, threw it away and never went back. That was over twenty years ago.” Though I hope I have her genes, she is one of the few of her siblings that are still alive, so my goal is to take on the attitude that it is at least a possibility to live healthily into my nineties.

Our relationships with our doctors are partnerships where, if everyone does their part, to the best of their abilities, the results can be stellar. I often think of my doctor as a mechanic diagnosing the vehicle I call my body. He does the tests and inspections and shares with me what our options are. If I’m lucky, the recommendations will be mainly dietary or physical exercise, and in some cases, he may suggest medicines that maintain its ongoing balance and operation. There have been times in my life when the fuel and motor oil I've imbibed were less than useful nutritionally or times when additives I consumed were actually harmful. Over time I became aware of the general decline that comes with age and made corrective changes, like tuning up my chassis with yoga. Some of us are driving vehicles, like Aunt Lil’s, that just seem to hum along in relative ease, no matter what we do or how long they run. Others might feel like they have gotten lemons, that require patching, from time to time, getting a few more hundred miles out of it before the next time a tune up is needed.

In any regard, it is our spirit the drives the body, and gives it a reason to get to where it has to go. And like our mobile conveyance, so too, the spirit itself requires maintenance…like peace and quiet, rest and relaxation, love, affection and creative stimulation… in order to be a vital power source. In these pursuits we must be our own doctors and know when to give these things priority.