New Wardrobe, New Calendar, Old Dog, New Tricks

New Wardrobe, New Calendar, Old Dog, New Tricks
When April comes, I get another candle on my cake, a marker of the passage of time. But more than birthdays, it’s that new four-digit number we get in January that emphatically draws my attention with painful precision to where I am along my own personal one-way trail of time.
Come New Years, the contradictory midnight bell tolls the dolorous-happy warning celebration that marks the boundary between the fading memory of thousands of days past and the anticipation of an uncertain score (or thousands–who knows?) of days ahead. New Years Day thunders to me of time passing, birthdays whisper.
In a few months, I’ll start living off the crumbs from under my own table called Social Security. After that, if people ask what I do for a living, I will have to look back to find an answer. I WAS a teacher. I USED TO BE a physical therapist. What will I tell them, looking ahead to 2010?
While much remains shrouded in the fog of that future, I do know this: my life is richer today than it was twenty years ago. Ideas that pique my curiosity and inspired moments in which I feel immersed in the community and land where I am blessed to live right now far exceed those I recall from the blurred high terrain of mid-career.
And here’s the good news: even while my joints and muscles often grumble and complain at the simplest request, I have enough of my senses intact to continue to make me a better human. I have unprecedented knowledge resources at my fingertips; and best of all, I will not, when I trip the odometer at 62, be doomed to intellectual doldrums or decay.
In a sense, I’m “just a boy!” as a spry 90 year old patient told me ten years ago when I admitted to him that I was 52–and felt ancient.
To my age peers I offer this bit of encouragement. A recent New York Times piece called “How to Train an Aging Brain” [http://is.gd/5LKHC]refutes the once-held notion that older brains lose up to 40% of their neurons. Further, it supports the conjecture that new connections between nerve cells–hence, stored information–is by no means destined to stop at retirement age and beyond.
Older brains, while they may forget their glasses, are much more integrative than younger brains, and better at “recognizing the central idea, the big picture. If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can.”
So yes, my future without “a job” will be different than my past. The 2010 calendar won’t be busy with the same routines. My wardrobe will change. Weekends and quitting time will hold nothing for me–nor vacations, for that matter.
While some things become physically harder (running uphill after the dog, climbing ladders, and buttons) or less of a thrill than they once were (winters, large pizzas and birthday cakes) I need not dread being bored and useless at home waiting for my batteries to drain and my cerebral hard drive to fragment and crash.
Looking at the calendar year ahead, there’s plenty of room and time in it to do meaningful work, to play and learn and grow. After all, I’m just a boy!
Somewhere Along the Path to Now
Somewhere Along the Path to Now

When April comes, I get another candle on my cake, a marker of the passage of time. But more than birthdays, it’s that new four-digit number we get in January that emphatically draws my attention with painful precision to where I am along my own personal one-way trail of time.

Come New Years, the contradictory midnight bell tolls the dolorous-happy warning celebration that marks the boundary between the fading memory of thousands of days past and the anticipation of an uncertain score (or thousands–who knows?) of days ahead. New Years Day thunders to me of time passing, birthdays whisper.

In a few months, I’ll start living off the crumbs from under my own table called Social Security. After that, if people ask what I do for a living, I will have to look back to find an answer. I WAS a teacher. I USED TO BE a physical therapist. What will I tell them, looking ahead to 2010?

While much remains shrouded in the fog of that future, I do know this: my life is richer today than it was twenty years ago. Ideas that pique my curiosity and inspired moments in which I feel immersed in the community and land where I am blessed to live right now far exceed those I recall from the blurred high terrain of mid-career.

And here’s the good news: even while my joints and muscles often grumble and complain at the simplest request, I have enough of my senses intact to continue to make me a better human. I have unprecedented knowledge resources at my fingertips; and best of all, I will not, when I trip the odometer at 62, be doomed to intellectual doldrums or decay.

In a sense, I’m “just a boy!” as a spry 90 year old patient told me ten years ago when I admitted to him that I was 52–and felt ancient.

To my age peers I offer this bit of encouragement. A recent New York Times piece called “How to Train an Aging Brain” [http://is.gd/5LKHC]refutes the once-held notion that older brains lose up to 40% of their neurons. Further, it supports the conjecture that new connections between nerve cells–hence, stored information–is by no means destined to stop at retirement age and beyond.

Older brains, while they may forget their glasses, are much more integrative than younger brains, and better at “recognizing the central idea, the big picture. If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can.”

So yes, my future without “a job” will be different than my past. The 2010 calendar won’t be busy with the same routines. My wardrobe will change. Weekends and quitting time will hold nothing for me–nor vacations, for that matter.

While some things become physically harder (running uphill after the dog, climbing ladders, and buttons) or less of a thrill than they once were (winters, large pizzas and birthday cakes) I need not dread being bored and useless at home waiting for my batteries to drain and my cerebral hard drive to fragment and crash.

Looking at the calendar year ahead, there’s plenty of room and time in it to do meaningful work, to play and learn and grow. After all, I’m just a boy!

Published by fred

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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8 Comments

  1. Thanks, Fred, for the reminder. While I reach 62 two months ahead of you, I find your zest for life intoxicating. I resonate that on some levels I am just a boy and have much I want to do that is beyond work.

  2. When you write “I need not dread being bored and useless” truer words were never spoken. Writing and community activism alone are more than enough. Add photography, gardening, rambling with the dog, etc. and you’ll be saying “when did I find time to go to work?”
    The joys of retirement are many, and I am amzed that many people go back to work out of boredom.

  3. Ya’ll make me feel like a kid…And I’ve still got six years and a half a month till the ss will kick in. I don’t know that it’s worth waiting for.

  4. “…..I WAS a teacher. I USED TO BE a physical therapist…..”
    Life is full of “ustas”. Years ago, I would say I fit pipe, weld and operate heavy equipment. Now, I say I usta fit pipe, weld and operate heavy equipment!
    Don’t sweat it, Fred, ol’ buddy. You still get more done by 0700 than most people do all day!

  5. gotcha well beat!
    today I turned 70
    & the biggest surprise of my life
    is how exciting and lively it is
    never healthier
    (I haven’t seen a doctor in over two decades)
    and still flexible enough to pout my ankles at the nape of my neck
    no creaking stiff joints
    more than enough to keep my moind
    heart and hands
    occupied

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