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By Roger Cormier and Sandy Cohen

Looking at our surroundings with fresh, attentive eyes and a truly open mind can reveal more than meets the eye. Take certain trees as reminders of continuing and even new life after middle age.

A dried out, 4-foot-high tree trunk with no bark stands at the side of a walking path in the English countryside. For whatever reason, it was not cut to the ground.

Consequently, it sprouted a new tree, which is reaching for the sun and spreading branches to host birds. Before long, it will provide a shady resting point for contemplation of the adjoining rolling hills.

This amazing feat of nature, upon reflection, mirrors the later lives of many older people. They may have closed certain chapters of their life story as they retired and survived life partners, soul mates and other earlier journey mates. Their health may have declined and their family may live at a distance.

But look at their new shoots and branches of keen interests and activities, as well as sanctuary for old friends and new acquaintances. Such new life may be easy to recognize among elders who passionately travel to explore other lands and cultures, or who choose to embark on a later life career or to offer their skills and care to people in need of help.

Not so easy to recognize is the glow on the face of an elder reflecting on the next steps of a creative project or treasuring special memories or new feelings of oneness with natural surroundings and people.

A large old oak tree at Lafayette Reservoir not too long ago was uprooted and fell. After it became barkless and seemingly dried out, shoots began to reach up and out. Doesn’t it know it was finished off after a long, productive life? We can only guess its future configuration and contributions to its living environment.

Whatever our chronological age, each of us has something old, dried out and seemingly useless in our physical, relational or vocational makeup. We also likely have openings out of which can spring shoots that will become new branches and limbs that will reach out from what may have seemed an unlikely base.

Fresh eyes and trees can mirror our ageless beginnings of creative, productive and satisfying relationships, adventures, contributions, insights and oneness with ourselves and our world.

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By Roger Cormier and Sandy Cohen

Nothing seems to spread as quickly as inspirational e-mails via family and friends. One such e-mail inspired us to post about it as follows.

The subject of the e-mail was “A dog named Faith.” Born effectively without front legs, his mother rejected her and her first owner considered “putting her to sleep.” However, another person felt sorry for her, adopted her, vowed to teach her to walk and named her Faith. Within six months he was standing erect on his hind legs and jumping forward. Later he learned to walk like a human.

Faith received much notoriety in person and in the media. Her owner decided to give up her teaching job and take Faith on a world tour to preach that even without a perfect body one can have a perfect soul.

Statue of Tasmanian Antarctic explorer Louis Bernacchi and his dog Joe at harbor of Australia’s Hobart, Tasmania

This got us thinking about each of us human beings and our own personal stories of faith, perseverance and accomplishment in the face of physical, psychological, prejudicial and other limitations and bad experiences. Far from being featured in an ever-spreading e-mail, we ourselves often lose sight of what we overcame and achieved, and few if any people even know or recall our story.

Such stories involve acts of faith in ourselves, by ourselves, and often by others in our lives. Today we can take some moments to reflect on our faith stories. Perhaps we will consider thanking someone who believed in and encouraged us, and sharing one or more of our faith stories with those whom we want to know us more completely and/or with those who might benefit from exposure to our stories.

Just as important, we can take a fresh look at current challenges in our life. We then can summon enough faith to meet a challenge as an opportunity for growth, personal satisfaction and giving of ourselves to others in new ways or with renewed purpose and fervor. If we face what seems like an insuperable stumbling block to faith forward, maybe it is time to seek reinforcement from someone close, a professional or a support group.

Whether we face an unwelcome or an inviting challenge, it is important to go beyond stuck patterns, discouragement, stereotypes and myths about whether we can consider and accomplish what calls out from deep wells and sparkling cascades of faith within and outside of ourselves. We can say yes. We can start today and persevere tomorrow with or without an inspirational e-mail.

By Roger Cormier and Sandy Cohen

A friend in Mexico recently wrote: “Since you are bloggers about life – what are the metrics for success/satisfaction at our age? My story is that life consists of three phases: Learning, Earning and Yearning. Each phase has distinct metrics or so it seems to me.

“Getting good grades and mastering the rules was the first phase’s metrics. The bottom line was key in the earning phase. But now that we’re no longer on the achievement wheel, how do we know if we’re getting to where we want to go? Surely, it’s not all tacos and sunshine. I’d like to hear your take on this phase of life. I have questions, but few answers. All I know is that the stuff I used to know is no longer as true as I once thought, and the stuff that counts in life isn’t stuff.”

There is much wisdom in this friend’s experience. After our formative and work years, most of us reach the third phase, which may or may not include paid work. Our friend works part time.

Without directly asking him what he yearns for, we experience him as a person with a unique joie de vivre, and whose choices are not based on age but on personality, family life, spiritual yearning, personal values, and cultural expansion derived from living in a foreign country (Mexico).

Regarding his question about “the metrics for success/satisfaction at our age,” we would encourage him to be clear about his deepest values, yearnings and means of satisfaction, as well as the needs of people and nature in today’s world. Balancing those factors is an evolving process that requires exploration, gratitude, patience and self-acceptance. Reaching out (and inward) for insight and support can make a big positive difference.

Our friend’s yearning is not primarily about stuff but about deeper experiences of what counts for him and his world in his life. As “bloggers about life” as we grow older, and, more importantly, as friends, we look forward to learning more about and supporting our friend’s yearning as well as his explorations, discoveries and affirmations in his third stage of life as it unfolds.

And, as they say in Mexico, “igualmente,” meaning the same goes for you and for us – as we grow older.

By Sandra J. Cohen and Roger Cormier

Here we are at the start of another year. How many years have we been living and how much longer might we live?

People have varied attitudes about these existential questions. Some feel they have lived long enough, and they await their end. Others want to live indefinitely if they retain their physical and mental health, as well as meaningful activities and a support system. Still others want to live in the moment without concern about longevity. What are your feelings about your now and the duration of your future?

Jesus Castillo Rangel (Don Chuy), Mexico’s oldest man at 121 (Yes, 121!) died last month. At 14, he joined the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Married in 1922, he and his wife were together for 90 years until her death in 2012 at the age of 104. Mentally alert as ever, the oldest man in Mexico woke up on the day of his birthday last October, opened his window and breathed in the morning breeze. One of his neighbors said that Don Chuy usually walked around the neighborhood every day. “He’s a strong man, healthy, a good person and very respectful,” said the neighbor.

While most people don’t live past 100 (let alone 120), many of us in current times will live well into our 90’s if not to a centennial-or-beyond birthday. We may have vague feelings about how we want our future to unfold regarding, for example, our health, spiritual life, connection with communities, and contributions to improve the world near and afar.

Is now the time to clarify and decisively act upon those feelings? If not, what are we waiting for? If such feelings and decisions evoke a fear of aloneness, is there someone or a network or group with whom we can share them and welcome their caring input? Before taking any such steps forward, it might help to remind ourselves about all that we are grateful for and proud of in our lives to date. Then it can be one step at a time to add to what is positive and redeeming in our life story.

No matter our current age – 50’s or younger, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s or 90’s. We and our world deserve for us to build upon our past, to make life- and self-affirming changes going forward, and to welcome unplanned opportunities to grow in self-acceptance and solidarity with people close to us and with others in our local and world community. Let’s go for it while the going is good.

These days, as always, horrific natural and human made catastrophes are occurring, as close as California and as far as Myanmar. More than half a million Rohingya Muslim refugees, starving and exhausted, have been flooding into Bangladesh following waves of killings and abuse by Myanmar’s military. Closer to home, unprecedented northern California fires, that started more than a week ago, so far have killed more than 40 people (with 200 still missing), destroyed 5,700 properties, and forced 75,000 people to evacuate their homes.

Such disasters and atrocities also include recent merciless hurricanes in the U.S., terrorist mass killings in several countries, and a host of other unimaginably destructive natural disasters and taking of human lives by military/government and terrorist groups. What can we do as individuals who are busy with our own lives, but wanting to relieve and prevent human suffering and environmental destruction?

It is very challenging to face, respond to and act upon the overwhelming feelings of horror, sadness and empathy that such tragedies cause in us. Case in point: The devastating, record-breaking fires north of us in the wine country continue to dominate the news and to cause anxiety, sadness and feelings of helplessness for those of us who have not sustained any destructive loss.

However, we have been communicating with friends some of whose family and friends have lost their homes or been forced to evacuate without knowing whether they have a home to return to. Our friends have expressed deep appreciation for our concern and support.

What else can we do? We participated in a fund-raising dinner the proceeds of which were donated to a few of the nonprofits providing essential services to fire victims. What else can we do? Review and share information about disaster preparedness with friends in our area; and update our disaster prep kits and supplies in case a major earthquake or fire hits our home.

Each of us needs to explore what we can do to impact nature-caused disasters and human-caused injustices and atrocities. Offer your love, support and assistance to someone you know who suffered losses from fires in northern California. Make a contribution to an organization like Direct Relief (www.directrelief.org), the Environmental Defense Fund, Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Support a promising, fledgling organization like Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Explore needs and opportunities for volunteerism abroad.

A friend, whose home was threatened by the fire, wrote to people who had shared their concern and support: “Our meditation teacher, in her New Year’s Day talk this year, enjoined us to ‘breathe out gently the benevolent power of the heart’ in 2017. That is exactly what you are doing with your thoughts and wishes for us up here, and the results are miraculous. Speaking for everyone here, we are full of gratitude for your help.”

By Sandra J. Cohen and Roger Cormier

The eloquent and charismatic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen inspired millions of Americans via radio, television and books throughout the mid-20th century. Countless people tuned into his weekly TV show, “Life Is Worth Living,” to hear his views, to experience the warmth and passion in his piercing eyes and to reflect on the meaning and purpose of their lives. Each of us has been influenced by inspirational figures and our life’s experience, but how do we determine whether at the end of our own life it has been worth living?

The answer to that question comes more easily for some than others. For many it changes as life changes them. Dreams can lead to disillusionment and pain, and despair can lead to hope and fulfillment. Whether we believe in an eternal hereafter or life that ends at the grave, what do we want to have in our hearts and have given to the world when our time comes? How clear and satisfying is our answer to this ultimate personal and individual question at this time in our lives?

At one level, how things are going for us and how we are feeling can influence our goals in life. Urgent matters and demanding personal and work obligations may leave us little time to get in touch with our deepest and ultimate goals. On the other hand, how often we have heard the advice “Live each day as if it were your last” or “You know not the day nor the hour.”

We want to balance our activities with our values. If we cannot afford the time to go on a spiritual retreat to review our life and clarify our goals, we can make some time today or very soon to focus on these needs. Even in the midst of busy days, we can make this happen. For example, we can reflect on how we feel about our life and what we most deeply want while we’re driving or walking somewhere, without the sounds of music or cell phone chatter.

As important as this is, there is a time for every purpose under heaven, to quote the Old Testament and a song by Pete Seeger. Two songs on Tony Bennett’s album, “Duets,” remind us to balance the deep and purposeful with the light and even frivolous. “If I Ruled the World” reminds us that we really want our life to count and “Are You Havin’ Any Fun?” encourages us to live in the moment and welcome the joys thereof.

At this point in your life’s journey, how would you assess the way it has gone so far? Your main values may be family and friends; career and calling; development of your talents and interests; contributing to community, social justice and the environment; living according to certain religious beliefs; kicking around and doing no harm; writing a book you feel the world needs; exploring the physical world and foreign cultures through travel; or only you know what else.

Are you happy with your goals? Do you want to make changes? Are you pleased to realize that overall you are satisfied and at peace? Or do you want to make it as much “our way” as “my way” going forward? If you ruled the world (your own or the outer one), how would you rule it? Are you havin’ any fun, son (or daughter)?

Life is about giving, receiving and coping. We are not all-powerful, but we can determine our hopes and attitude and give the world our all. As they say, today is the first day of the rest of our lives. How will our life be worth living?

 

By Sandra J. Cohen and Roger Cormier

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement,” Rachel Carson once wrote. “It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.”

It is true that as we move into adulthood, we face challenges, assume responsibilities, suffer disappointments, and find our waking hours filled with adult tasks. Some claim that grown-ups who retain some childlike behaviors should grow up, yet they often marvel at, enjoy, maybe even envy those who live in the moment and approach life with playful abandon.

Ironically, many think today’s children are forced to grow up too soon because they are placed in so many structured activities and exposed to more of the adult world than they probably should be. On the other hand, people from adolescence through advanced ages don’t feel they can give themselves permission, in playwright Tom Stoppard’s words, to “carry your childhood with you.”

Like so many of life’s paradoxes, we can convert this seeming either-or into a both-and approach that enriches our lives at any chronological age or state of development.

Sure, we may be busy, responsible and engaged in career, family and community, but we don’t have to let worries and fears keep us from enjoying activities associated with being a kid. Consider some of the ways we can be childlike today. On her website, http://www.tinybuddha.com, Lori Deschene offers these suggestions:

LEARN: Fill out your own permission slip to go to the aquarium, a museum or a nearby tourist attraction. If something looks interesting, take a break and go!

PLAY: Be silly. Look for funny things in your day and let yourself laugh about them.

CONNECT: Make a spontaneous play date. Invite people over right now, for no reason but to have fun.

CREATE: Assume you’d be really good at something — piano, rock climbing, organizing a club — and then find out, instead of assuming the opposite.

BE: Relax and do nothing. Don’t try to fill that empty pocket of time. You’ve been productive enough. Kick back, cut loose and let yourself waste a little time.

IMAGINE: Visualize a tomorrow with endless possibilities.

“It is never too late to have a happy childhood,” writes novelist Tom Robbins. What childlike quality in you is ready and eager to enjoy today?

By Sandra Cohen and Roger Cormier

You can’t break your funny bone

He who laughs, lasts. — Anonymous

There is more than enough adversity and stress in the world and in our lives, but probably not enough laughter. Think about your most recent and other good laughs, and a smile will appear on your face. Laughter is good for us at any age or stage in life.

img_0831Studies have shown laughter can help reduce stress and pain, lower blood pressure, elevate mood, boost the immune system, improve brain functioning and protect the heart. It can connect us to others — we laugh 30 times more with others than alone — foster instant relaxation and make us feel good and be more open to others.

Author Missy Buchanan, in her book “Living With Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults,” recounted how much she loved visiting her mother in a senior residence at lunchtime. A group of tablemates, all limited by multiple medical conditions and disabilities, told each other story after story and laughed their way through their meal. That caused other diners to brighten up and enjoy their meal more, too.

Laughter is good medicine and it is contagious. Think about it. Even when we’re alone, when something funny tickles us, first our face lights up and we smile; then we laugh, sometimes out loud; and occasionally we need to dry our eyes and regain our composure. Often our first thought is to share that experience by calling or e-mailing someone or passing it along in person.

Speaking of e-mail, many of us regularly receive jokes and funny stories and pictures via the Internet. We may wonder who has time to think these things up and start them on their way around town, the nation and sometimes the world. Fortunately, people do make time for humor, even in our busy and stressful world. If we would like to laugh more, how can we make that happen?

We can spend more time with people who make us laugh and who enjoy our funny lines and stories. Include more humor in our entertainment — reading, films, radio and television. Think back to funny experiences and swap them with others. Revisit the same image or story, and discover even more nuances that will tickle your ribs.

Studies show health-related benefits of laughter. Links to laughter web sites and laughter groups in North America and elsewhere: http://www.laughteryogaamerica.com/maps/; http://laughteronlineuniversity.com; http://laughteryoga.org

Roger-Sandy

By Sandra J. Cohen and Roger Cormier

One day we saw an older man finishing a walk around a local reservoir with friends. From a distance only the words “I survived” stood out on the back of his T-shirt. We assumed it referred to his completion of a challenging run or walk. But it also occasioned some reflection on what it means to survive.

As we get older, we look back and recognize that we have survived in many ways. We remain physically alive thanks to a combination of genes, circumstances, luck and care. We have withstood and even grown through physical, emotional and financial losses. Our identity and roles in career, family and community have changed. Dreams have shattered and loved ones have been lost, and here we are finishing another walk or run around the reservoir of life.

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Why do those T-shirts always proclaim survival? We can just as well wear the message “I thrive.” Think about it. At any point in our lives, we both survive and thrive in different ways. Retirees struggle with the loss of their work identity, but they pursue new interests, activities and relationships. Elderly people lose some mobility, but apply themselves to new expressions and experiences such as watercolor painting or travel.

We don’t tend to advertise on T-shirts, however, when our lives take a nose dive from the pain and disorientation of such events as losing a loved one, feeling betrayed by someone we trusted, or sustaining a big financial loss or a serious medical event or illness. We go inward, do our grieving, accept support and understanding from people close to us, and emerge to test the waters in a vulnerable yet hopeful way.

The reservoir in this story can remind us that beneath our surviving is always a reserve, a source that calls forth untapped spiritual potential to thrive and move forward. Some seniors live in the past. Others fear the future. Many thrive in the now with gratitude, hope and commitment to themselves and others.

On a different, glorious, sunny day, we experienced a park with water cascading from every direction into crystal-clear lakes with fish visibly swimming everywhere. It reminded us that if we are stuck at the surviving end of life’s continuum, we can experience moments of surprise, wonder and awe that can inspire us to extend ourselves and thrive in ways we might dare to imagine.

The man at the reservoir met and celebrated his challenge. What waters will each of us allow to carry us to our next stage of living, learning, loving and laughing?

Roger-Sandy

By Sandra J. Cohen and Roger Cormier

Now that we have the prospect of living at least 20 to 30 more years than previous generations, how can we prepare for and use those years? Our choices are no longer limited to work, then retirement; good health, then quick decline and death; expanding horizons, then sunset and darkness. Whether we are in our 40’s, 60’s or 80’s, we can choose to grow, contribute and thrive within ourselves, socially, and in a world hungry for what we can offer.

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People of any age can take a fresh look at their bag of tricks, and add a few for opportunities and challenges on the road ahead. Retirement no longer is either/or regarding work or involvement in the community. Health is not solely a function of our genes. The world’s problems are not only for the next generations to solve.

Organizations such as Second Journey (www.secondjourney.org) encourage and gather people who are creatively aging or who are working with and dedicated to such people. This online organization helps aging people find their untapped potential for growth and for social, civic and environmental engagement.

Aging advocates such as psychiatrist Gene D. Cohen suggest such tools as a social portfolio, analogous to a financial portfolio, to build up and diversify interests, activities and involvements for active and satisfying aging, and for the prospect of reduced mobility, energy and social interaction in one’s advanced years. His book, “The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life,” offers some why’s and how’s toward this goal.

Not all people want to continue to work when they reach a financially viable retiring point. For those who avoid change, anything new and different makes them uncomfortable. Some are skeptical toward people who choose new paths and involvements in their later years, and they assume that such joie de vivre is possible only for people who have been lucky to live “the good life.” Security and familiarity remain the top values for some, even if they are bored, bitter and bereft of purpose and people in their lives.

What a shame it would be if we failed to respond to the gift of prospective longer lives with wide-eyed anticipation. Whatever our personal history, we can choose to enrich and deepen our own and others’ lives today and throughout our time to come. Today truly is the first day of the rest of our lives, a good day to revisit our life ahead with fresh eyes.