Last week we considered some aspects of retirement, including the idea that we live in different lands at different times in our lives. The phrase “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the Land of the living” comes from Psalm 27:13. This time of retirement is one of those lands. We see some people going through it in the “land of the living” while others seem to approach it as the “land of the dying”. Needless to say, we prefer the “living” approach. The material below is taking from our presentation called Aging Joyfully Together. We hope you will find in it encouragement and perhaps some ideas about how to spend this time in your life “in the land of the living.”
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. You can look beyond your easy chair and put some life into your lives. 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 health and mobility issues 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.
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 hr 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 admire their determination to make the adjustments to 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, gotten up to 125 mph on the autobahn in Germany (Rita kept her eyes closed) and driven the wrong way on a street in Florence – during rush hour. If I had more time, I would tell you about having our car towed in Siena on a Saturday afternoon. Last fall we spent three weeks in Haiti and next month we will be spending 12 days in Israel, The Holy Land.
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. I think it was still a factor when she recently decided to take meat out of her diet. 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 go to Haiti or travel much at all and that’s OK. Adventure for you is whatever takes you at least a little bit outside your comfort zone. If you’re always ready for 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 or surfs the net for recipes that have possibilities. We have eaten some great new foods as well as one or two that we won’t make again. BTW, (I’ve even learned some social media lingo) 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 (we used to tell our kids that they needed an 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 you are going to have as a result, you may be pleasantly surprised at how well you sleep.
A couple of years ago 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. Later he talked about how interesting it was including riding the el into the city.
In the end our attitude toward life makes the difference between adventure and boredom. The little adventures 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 says in his first letter to the Corinthians that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. I used this reference 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, at this age our bodies haven’t stopped being temples of the Holy Spirit. So 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 people was to just not move. The result for many was 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 can home and began an exercise program that resulted in some weight loss and helped my overall 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 allowed me to sit down on the floor with teens when I was on retreat with them or to 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 can apply to your sexual relationship as well. For most of us things don’t work the way they once did, but that doesn’t mean that 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 their spirit and soul – they only experience it in terms of physical pleasure.
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 then, 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 in bookstores. Some times we packed a picnic basket and went to a park and read for the afternoon. Then of course we got busy with all the middle years of our life together. We spent a lot time with our jobs, house management, having and raising children and being involved in service activities. Just as most of you have done. Now we are approaching the other book end. We think it is fun to revisit some of the things we did in the dating years. Pack a picnic lunch and go to a park and read or 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 what it would be like to do them. We have tried a few of those things. It’s great fun to do something that seems slightly naughty or inappropriate. We haven’t yet gotten tattoos, although we have considered a temporary one, mostly thinking about the reaction that our kids would have when they saw it. We have a priest friend who has retired to Texas. 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 to 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 him the two 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 will get a tattoo. Think about something new you always wanted to do together and give it a try. All of this goes back to the comment I made last week – having things still to do always makes me think of a future. I really don’t think that, for me, 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. 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. Bob has a slight hearing loss. I’ve adjusted to speaking louder, having the TV higher in volume or repeating 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 through most of our marriage. Our daughter-in-law, Rhonda, 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.
One final thing that enables us to be Christ for one another is to pray together in some way most days. It can begin with holding hands in bed and/or saying a short prayer in the morning or at night. An obvious time is at meals, even at restaurants, or anytime throughout the day. We assume that for most of you prayer is part of your life. Prayer is important because to truly be what God wants us to be and to respond to God’s initiative, like Abraham did, we need to have the right attitude in mind and heart. It also helps us to live with gratitude and to see the goodness of the Lord in all aspects of our lives. It helps us to remain firmly and actively involved in “the land of the living.”
What are some of the things that keep you and your spouse in the “land of the living” as you are aging? Please leave us a comment.