When I see commercials on how to recreate the body I had at 20-years-of-age by applying a magical cream that isn’t sold in any regulated stores and free to me for the next ninety minutes if I agree to receive 324 months of the stuff—I sit back in my rocking chair with wrinkles and flab, delighted I learned to adapt to a normal phase of living.

We are born, develop, reflect, age, and die. I don’t think anyone has found a way to extend the process, no matter how much we wish for a different outcome, the products we buy, the new relationships we create, or the prayers we utter.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image12624453Unfortunately, many people equate adapting to “giving up” or “acting one’s age.” To feel younger we buy cars associated with people half our age, wear clothes that embarrass our adult children, and try to rebuild our bodies through dangerous 800 calorie diets and training that would give a hernia to a life-long weight lifter. When we do these things, we think we’re halting the aging process. Wrong. What we are doing is unsuccessfully trying to prevent the inevitable.

Does that mean I think we should sit in a La-Z-Boy eating Hostess cupcakes, watching the fat grow around our waist, and listening to the cholesterol gather in our arteries? Absolutely not. We should neither fight nor give up. We need to adapt.

A few months ago I began woodcarving. I used blocks of kiln-dried wood for the first few pieces. All sides were planed to eliminate imperfections, and nothing in the wood interfered with the pattern I drew on the surface. I cut out unwanted wood and the end product was a sculpture—not great—but one that satisfied me. Everything changed when I began using found-wood; pieces from the side of the road, firewood piles, and on the beach.

Uncarved TrunkIf I pretended the groves and irregularities had smooth surfaces, I would need to carve away most of the wood before I drew a pattern on the surface. I quickly learned that I could only carve what the wood allowed.

Often during the course of cutting, a rotten piece became exposed, and I needed to rethink a design I thought was perfect. Sometimes the rotted part became an integral point of the sculpture. Not because I wanted it to be, but that’s would the wood said it should be.

I learned found-wood’s unchangeable parameters set limits on my creatively. Knot and twists—just like aging—don’t disappear, no matter how much I wish both would.

THE TAKEAWAY. You can’t change a three-foot oak log with bug rot into an immaculate piece of Honduran mahogany, nor make life’s limitations go away. Successful aging is similar to carving found-wood. Don’t fight it, but rather learn to joyfully adapt.

Man in Log Why? Because you can’t choose not to age, but you can choose how to do it.

NOTE:If you’d like to read more articles on aging, sign up for my mailing list (see column on the right) or check back every 3-4 weeks. I don’t share or sell my email list.

19 Responses

  1. Luke

    My granddaughter said to my wife, “Gramma you have lots of wrinkles… that means you’ve lived a long time. Some day I want to be old just like you!”

    Outward looking sees the expanse of gracious living. Inward looking only sees the wrinkles.

    Reply
  2. Patty Grace

    Stan, you bring clarity and common sense to aging and caregiving.

    Thank you!

    Reply
  3. Marty Tousley (@GriefHealing)

    Wonderful as always, Stan, and I agree with you completely. (Luke’s comment above reminds me of my grandniece’s response to learning I’d just turned 70. “But Mimi,” she said to my sister, “Isn’t Aunt Marty too short to be that old?”) Grands are just the best for speaking the truth and putting things in proper perspective, aren’t they?! ♥

    Reply
    • Stan Goldberg

      Hi Marty,

      Thanks for the kind words and I love the humor of your grandniece. Sometimes it takes a fresh mind to give us a bit of perspective.

      Reply
  4. Susan M Gomes

    Laughed about ordering the magical face cream because I recently did it. “But wait, there’s more! If you call now we will send you TWO jars of miracle anti-wrinkle cream, and FREE S&H!” I’ve got wrinkles and age spots from decades of playing in the sun. Now it’s mostly gardening, but I love the sun shining on my 67 year old face. Enjoyed your article during a gardening break and loved “Successful aging is similar to carving found-wood. Don’t fight it, but rather learn to joyfully adapt.” I am.

    Reply
      • Susan M Gomes

        Ha! No ginsu knives, never caved until the anti wrinkle promo. Every day affords me new opportunities (sometimes in the form of challenges) to be more comfortable with who I am, now. Namaste and Namustgo 😉

  5. Caryn Isaacs

    Yesterday, I looked at my 89 years old this month friend’s hands. How the wrinkles had turned into caverns. I thought about how many words this author, playwright, poet had written with those hands. How many audiences had enjoyed her accordion concerts and how many lives she has changed as both therapist and parole officer. How she brightens my life with her wisdom and joy, even while showing me every article she reads on the latest anti-wrinkle cream. Now I know how to answer her. I will give her your article as a birthday present along with the bling finger watch I found at a garage sale to celebrate those lines on her hands.

    Reply
    • Stan Goldberg

      What a beautiful post. Often the most meaningful things about aging stare us in the face. Your friend has not only provided you with wonderful memories, but has created a lasting legacy for those who know her.

      Take Care,
      Stan

      Reply
  6. Heidi Macalaster

    Stan,
    This article proposes a subject dear to my heart. I love the elderly. They have wit and wisdom, so much hiding inside behind those same eyes that at one time scoured the universe from the tops of the tress they climbed as a child, the eyes as the ones who saw their loved one come home (or not return) from a war, the creation of everything from computers, television, and their first cell-phone. They love to share their joy, their adventures and if allowed, live to a very nice ripe age of…whatever. As long as they are happy, they thrive. My parents for instance, 84 years old, still out tilling gardens, planting trees, giving to their neighbors and living in their same house. If we eliminated ourselves at 75, those added years would be long forgotten, never dreamed, never aspired to creation, love, and life. Who are we to take that gift away?

    Reply
    • Stan Goldberg

      Beautiful description of the best aspects of aging Heidi. Even with all of the negative things we have to endure, I don’t think I’ll be ready to stop treatment for myself. Thanks for the comments.

      Reply
  7. Chris Olivier

    Love your article. I had to learn to adapt when, at 65, I was diagnosed with cancer. Now, at 75, I’m starting to apply what I learned to old age!!!

    Reply
  8. Alaya

    Good article, and thanks for following on Twitter!
    One aspect which I feel is often forgotten is that of the deep psychology of “fighting” ageing.- from a spiritual perspective it feels like fear of death.
    Our fear of death also is at the route of our “busyness” .
    If more took a more spiritual stance there would not be the distraction or fascination with the body, because we would always tap into the essence of ourselves as something far greater than body or mind!
    Ageing and death is utterly acceptable and inevitable! Therefore for me, ageing has been easy to witness because there is more acceptance of the transitory nature of everything.
    I like your articles about growing old with grace, acceptance. Simply being happy!

    Kind Regards
    Alaya

    Reply
    • Stan Goldberg

      Thanks Alaya for your kind words and wisdom.And you’re absolutely right about the effect of fighting aging. Many people don’t understand that “not fighting” doesn’t mean “giving up.”

      Reply
  9. Lewis Tagliaferre

    thanks for your blogs…I visited SF several times during my career and it always was inviting…I live in NVA ten miles from DC and this area is full of younger people chasing money and careers…so at my age of 83 and retired now for 18 years with detached family and living alone I search constantly for words to help lift my daily depression…meds help take the edge off a little but my constant research led to you and I am thankful for that…Lewtag

    Reply
    • Stan Goldberg

      Thanks for your kind remarks Lewis. Depression is difficult to fight, especially when you are alone and getting older (as I am!) What I’ve found helpful is focusing on the emotions I can no longer feel because of a loss and search to ways to regenerate the emotion rather than trying to replicate the loss. For me, the serenity I experienced from wilderness flyfishing (my loss) was compensated by playing Native American Flutes. Many of my articles on loss deal with this topic.

      Take Care,
      Stan

      Reply

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About The Author

I am an author of eight books in four languages. LESSONS FOR THE LIVING: STORIES OF FORGIVENESS, GRATITUDE AND COURAGE AT THE END OF LIFE is my memoir of being a bedside hospice volunteer for six years while battling prostate cancer. My next book, LEANING INTO SHARP POINTS: PRACTICAL GUIDANCE AND NURTURING SUPPORT FOR CAREGIVERS will be published in March, 2012 by New World Library and focus on caregiving for loved ones who have a progressive or terminal illness.