Our Traveling Companion

einstein
Albert Einstein

I’ve written most of my recent blog posts chronicling my personal progress in my newly adopted 5×5 workout plan. Only a minority of the time do I address topics specifically relevant to the older person who wants to become more healthy and maintain a good quality of life.

Then a few reminders came along and I decided to write this today, starting with the following quote:

One of the greatest kindnesses the Almighty gave humankind is not living forever. Knowing that we have an expiration date (especially not knowing when that expiration date is) and a deadline (literally), is a constant reminder to think about life. If we lived forever, we could always put something off for tomorrow … and then the next day … and then … forever. The reality of death — and the too frequent reminders as those who we know and love pass on — hopefully remind us to be serious with life and use it well to be all that we can be.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Commentary on Torah Portion Beha’alotcha
Aish.com

I try to keep religion out of this “old man’s gym” blogspot for the most part, but since a relationship with my Creator is the reality of my existence, I have to bring Him into it from time to time.

In this case, Rabbi Packouz is reminding us that as mortal beings, we have to treat each moment of our lives as precious, because we do indeed come with an “expiration date,” one which is perpetually hidden from us until it actually arrives.

I’ve been thinking of this quite a bit lately, not because of my own mortality but because of my Dad’s. He’s 83 years old and was previously diagnosed with melanoma in one eye. That seemed pretty unusual to me, but I guess it’s more common than I thought.

The cancer in his eye was successfully treated last December, but as anyone who has fought the “cancer wars” knows, you’re never truly free. He’s been undergoing periodic tests and recently, more melanoma was found on one of his arms. The cancer was removed but did they get all of it?

My parents called me yesterday to tell me and my wife the test results, which thankfully, were quite favorable. More tests are to come but as it stands now, his doctors aren’t particularly worried that the cancer has spread.

On the one hand, my parents are getting older, and this is the stage of my life when the generation ahead of me declines and eventually expires. On the other hand, no one looks forward to dying and no matter how old we are, and at the point when we stare our own mortality in the face, I believe in most cases, we feel as if we haven’t lived quite long enough yet.

Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart): Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe than time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment because they’ll never come again. What we leave behind is not as important how we lived. After all, Number One, we’re only mortal.

Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes): [smiling] Speak for yourself, sir. I plan to live forever.

-dialog from the film
Star Trek: Generations (1994)

Patrick Stewart
Patrick Stewart

While living forever, at least in this world, is strictly science fiction, living a longer, healthier life is becoming increasingly within our grasp thanks to new medical techniques and technologies.

Unfortunately, as our technology improves, our environment, food supply, eating habits, and general lifestyle is rapidly degrading. Not only is our food considered unsafe in general but the potential dangers represented by genetically modified foods paints a grim portrait of the future.

Can we fight back or are we condemned to live in a world that promotes runaway health epidemics such as diabetes, morbid obesity, and cancer?

There are glimmers of hope, such as found at the All About Healthy Choices blog, including the timely article How to Improve the Aging Process.

But even if we are able to take control of our environment, food, medical condition, and lifestyle, Rabbi Packouz tells us that it’s not enough:

Many of us live as if we will live forever focusing on the now, on our careers, on making money. One wit once said “We spend the first part of our life sacrificing our health to make money and the latter part of our life sacrificing our money to regain health.” It’s proverbial that a person’s last words won’t be, “I should have spent more time at the office.” Why wait until it’s late in the game to set our priorities and our values — and live by them?

If you have ever visited a senior citizen home you will likely see that the residents get excellent care. However professionally they are treated, there is not always the warmth and caring that we would want for our loved ones … or ourselves.

It would be wonderful if each of us could find someone senior to us who we could make a priority in our life. It would give more meaning to our life and to their life to have someone to care about them — to feel loved, needed, a part of someone’s life.

love
Photo credit: aviewfromthebackporch.com

Over a year ago, my Dad had both of his knees replaced. After the first surgery, his doctor was concerned that Dad might have suffered from a small stroke, since his cognitive abilities, usually as sharp as a tack, seemed significantly impaired. As it turned out, Dad was reacting poorly to the pain meds they were giving him. For most of his life, Dad’s hardly taken even an aspirin, so the exposure to the heavy narcotic medication basically knocked him for a loop. He recovered nicely once they changed his meds.

When he had the other knee replaced, he did much better, but surgery is surgery and nothing is guaranteed. While he was recovering in the hospital, I wrote him this quoting Psalm 103.

We need many things to live and healthy and enjoyable life, but besides eating healthy, exercising, and being productive, we also need companionship and love. Give someone that gift and may you also receive it in abundance.

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.

Lao Tzu

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