Some thoughts as old age is creeping (or maybe galloping) up on us.
The sacrament of marriage calls us to be signs of God’s love to each other and the world. When God is present to us and we are grateful for God’s gifts, it is difficult not to be joyful. So where is the joy in you and your spouse? The answer is that you have to create it. For the sake of having a joyful life, you may have to give yourself an attitude adjustment. So we are going to challenge you as we constantly challenge ourselves to put some adventure in your life. Adventure means different things to different people and we know that aging brings health and mobility issues that have an effect on what you can do, but when you get started, you may find that the boundaries aren’t as narrow as you think.
Last winter we met Wayne and Sue in Puerto Rico. They are in their late 60s and Sue has had breast cancer twice, been in a nasty car accident and has joint disease that allows her be out of bed only about 9 hours a day. They were spending a week at a resort before leaving on a Caribbean cruise. Their caring for each other is obvious and they easily speak of the wonderful traits of the other and of their appreciation for the other. We were very aware of how much they enjoyed being together. We admire their determination to make the adjustments required by their situation and keep going.
We never saw ourselves as very adventurous until people started to tell us their fears about travel and its perceived dangers, their concern that they wouldn’t like the food or be able to find their way around a strange city. I have been frustrated trying to get to a hotel in more than one European city, and against the advice of seasoned travelers I have driven in Rome, driven 125 mph on the autobahn in Germany (Rita kept her eyes closed) and driven the wrong way on a street in Florence, Italy – during rush hour. If I had more space, I would tell you about having our car towed in Siena on a Saturday afternoon.
Food is also a great source of adventure for us. We have tasted some wonderful foods, even though we didn’t actually know what they were. There have been some surprises along the way. Rita still hasn’t fully recovered from the chorizo she ordered in France that wasn’t chorizo as we know it. Sometimes in situations like that we switch meals, but on this one we just shared mine. Sometimes the biggest disasters of the moment become our best stories and fondest memories.
Although we highly recommend foreign travel, if you have the urge and are financially able to do so, we know that many, maybe most, couples are not quite ready to do so and that’s OK. Adventure for you is whatever takes you at least a little bit outside your comfort zone. If you always eat meat and potatoes, occasionally try tacos or sushi. Try an ethnic restaurant you haven’t been to before. Here’s an advantage to being a couple – order one dish that is “safe” and one that is new. If you like the new one, it’s a great discovery, if you are worried about throwing up, share the safe one.
We also like variety in food at home. While I do most of the cooking, Rita watches the newspaper food section for recipes that have possibilities. We have eaten some great new foods as well as one or two that we won’t make again. By the way, did you know that celery root is a tasty addition to some casseroles? Another benefit is that we are eating healthier.
In many cases, the routine dullness of life is mostly about attitude (remember, attitude adjustment?) If you think you can’t sleep in any bed but your own, you will never be happy away from home. If you decide that one night of poor sleep is worth it, for the fun thing you are going be able to do as a result, you may be pleasantly surprised at how well you sleep.
Last summer Rita’s nieces and nephews (adults in their 50s) visited us. One nephew’s wife is studying art and wanted to visit the Chicago Art Institute. Some of the group didn’t want to go into the City, but her nephew went along, probably mostly to accompany his wife. When we got there he suddenly started asking questions about various art works and became very interested in the meaning behind the things he saw. At dinner that evening he kept talking about what a good time it was.
In the end our attitude toward life makes the difference between adventure and boredom. The little adventures (and sometimes misadventures) lead to a lot of the humor in our lives. When the meal is bad we can be upset about it or we can laugh and say: “I guess we won’t order that again!”
Saint Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians writes, that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. I used this when I was teaching teens about sexuality. As I reflect now on it two things come to mind – first our bodies being temples is broader than sexuality and secondly our bodies never stop being temples of the Holy Spirit. Believing that means we need to take a look at what this means at this point in our lives and how that might affect how we can be joyful.
There is a large billboard on one of Chicago’s expressways that says “The Best Medicine for osteoarthritis is to keep moving.” We’ve seen the reaction to pain in many couples. They just stop moving and the result is a downward spiral into little movement at all. Ten years or so ago I went to a conference for religion teachers. I discovered that I was doing a reasonably good job of tending to my spiritual needs but not doing very well at handling my physical needs. I came home and began an exercise program that resulted in some weight loss but helped my over cardio-vascular health. I’ve managed to stay committed to that and walk 2+ miles four or five days a week along, with a little weight lifting. While my arthritis has not gotten any better I have kept mobility. That allows me to walk great distances when we travel and meant I could sit on the floor with teens when I was on retreat with them or play with our grandchildren. In addition to my regular walks, Bob and I often take walks in our neighborhood. It gives us an opportunity to let our Sacrament be visible to the younger couples in our neighborhood. They often comment that we’re their heroes or that they want to be like us when they are retired. Most of our children have taken up an exercise routine as a result as well. My challenge to you is to think about what you can do with your temples. This likely applies to your sexual relationship as well. For most of us, things don’t work the way they once did but that doesn’t mean we should abandon any kind of physical touch and intimacy. I used to tell my students that sexual intimacy is wasted on the young because they don’t get what physical intimacy does for one’s spirit and soul.
As we continued to look at our relationship with an adventurous spirit we created an image that our years together are contained by bookends. One bookend was our dating years and we remember with joy all the things we did. We had little money so we went to drive-in movies, community dances, Mass and confession at the cathedral in Cincinnati (they were totally free) walked through furniture sections of department stores and dreamed. Sometimes we packed a picnic basket and went to a park and read for the afternoon. Then of course we got busy with all middle years of our life together. We spent a lot time with our careers, house management, having and raising children, time in our parish and other service organizations. Now we are the other book end. We think it is fun to revisit some of the things we did in the dating years like packing a picnic lunch and going to a park and read—actually many times it is just our deck, or going to a museum when it isn’t so busy. We still like touring model homes although we are likely to down size when and if we move again. Going to concerts and plays is easier when we don’t have to arrange a babysitter and worry about when we get home. We look at this time and think about some of the things we wanted to do when we were younger and mostly talked about. Now we can so do some of them. We have tried a few things like traveling, decorating our “dream” home and getting a manicure and massage together but haven’t yet gotten a tattoo although we have considered a temporary one, mostly thinking about the reaction that our kids would have when they saw it. We have a retired priest friend. When we last visited him he was talking about his bucket list of things he wanted to do yet in his life. One of the things was get a manicure and pedicure but he thought the people in his retirement community would laugh at him. Bob promised that the next time we visit, the two of them would do that together.
Think about some things you might do to put a little more adventure in your life. Maybe it’s putting on your favorite music from your dating years and dancing even if you just hold each other up. Maybe you’re more adventuresome then we are and you can get a tattoo. Think about something new you always wanted to do together and give it a try. Having things to still do always makes me think of a future. I really don’t think for me that sitting in a lazy boy all day everyday and watching TV is what Saint Paul meant for me to do with my temple. Our sacrament of marriage is still very much alive and we are still called to make Jesus present for our spouses and others no matter what our age. The more we tend to the physical aspects of our bodies the more we will be able to do that.
If we are to be a sign of Jesus to each other and to the world we can’t be unhappy, crabby and out of sorts all the time. Our lives need a little humor. I think that becomes more evident as we age. If either or both of you have not had much humor in your lives all along this too may require an attitude adjustment. One of the things I have always liked about Bob is his zest for life and his wacky sense of humor. He constantly finds humor in signs and in comments people make that they did not quite intend. We once observed a couple who were likely somewhere in their seventies at an airport. We were on the same delayed flight. He had an obvious hearing loss and needed to use the restroom frequently. Every time an announcement about our flight was made he needed to ask his wife to repeat it or when he came back from the bathroom he’d ask her if anything had been updated. She kept getting more irritated with each of his questions. I know a little of those feelings. As I said Bob has a slight hearing loss. I’ve adjusted to speaking louder, have the TV higher in volume or repeat things. When I find myself a little irritated I remind myself to be grateful he is still here and we can have conversations. We do laugh about it at times. I’ve learned that if I have something very important to say I need to make sure I have his attention. So I address him as Robert Mark. The funny thing is that our grandchildren have picked up on that as well. If they are very excited and are trying to talk to him they will say Grandpa, Grandpa Bob, and if he doesn’t respond they say Robert Mark. It works and we all laugh.
Bob has been an absent minded professor for as long as I have known him. It didn’t go away when he became a professor emeritus. He can’t find keys, gloves, or remember what clothes he wore yesterday. What he is looking for in the pantry or refrigerator can be right in front of him and he still can’t see it. I can tell him exactly where to find something in a drawer or on a shelf and many times he still can’t see it. I get up and point or get something that he swore was not where I said it was. We usually laugh and give each other a kiss. In the last few years he short circuits a situation by just asking me to get something rather than wasting time. I think it is a wonderful example of humility that Bob has and likely most of us need as we age. This has been a running joke most of our marriage. Our daughter-in-law, Rhonda, at Christmas observed one of our funny encounters and said “now I know why Dan is that way.” On the rare occasions when I can’t find something and he can, the situation is even funnier.
How do you create adventure in your life? Have a good story to tell? Leave a comment below.
This post is excerpted from our program: Aging Joyfully Together. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for information about bringing it to your parish or other group. As you now know, we still like to travel and speaking to married couples is a passion and always an adventure for us.