Second Wind: What wouldn’t you do?
Some questions wake us up – a pail of ice water dumped on the head. Here’s one: If you had only one year to live, what would you do?
Here’s another: Why aren’t you doing that now?
Me, I have trouble with those wake-up questions. My priorities are not so tidy that I can answer fast and then believe myself. So I’m backing into a reply by asking a third question:
What am I doing now that I wouldn’t be doing if I had only a year to live?
That question makes it easier. Subtract everything that is a major pain in a body part and look at what’s left. That’s the basic pay dirt of your life, the things you enjoy or find worthwhile. Next add in the things you always meant to do. Now you have a handle on what you’d do with that one last theoretical year.
Older people and time
People who toddle on past 50, 60 and 70 know that they are getting up there, there being the place where time Matters with a capital M because by then one knows how fast time passes. Birthdays for the older adult pass by like subways stations seen from a speeding train.
So yes, we silver heads have time on our minds. We know having a long future is no longer a given the way it is to a 5-year-old who has a lifetime supply. Time – the living and breathing left to us – turns out to be the most precious commodity on earth.
The good obsession
So me, I’m getting obsessed about my most precious possession. If you think shoe obsessions are bad, I confess I’m someone who keeps opening my mental closet to admire and count the days I might have left.
So, yes, I’m a time junkie. Can’t get enough. Always looking for more. Try and take it from me and I’ll smack you one.
OK, I won’t do that, but I will say no to the person who asks me to knit booties for orphan squirrels. I pick my volunteer work and am beginning to get the sense to know when my calendar and heart are full. Still very involved professionally, I put my goals into A, B and C categories and then pay no attention to the C’s. Older people shouldn’t be playing in the minor leagues when it comes to priorities.
Family: The confession
Increasingly I am more selective about the energy expended on relatives. If a literate, phone-toting grandchild can’t thank me for a gift, no more time spent picking out special gifts. My beloved ingrate gets a singing e-mail greeting instead. And this may lose me my granny license, but I say no to the very kind invitations to kids’ birthday parties. If I wanted to ruin my hearing, I’d go to a rock concert instead. I figure graduations from 8th grade, high school and college for 12 grandchildren will keep me busy enough in the calendar department.
As we all know, there are friends and then there are friends. The less desirable ones never call unless they want something. Well, I want something too – good friends – which means a fairly even exchange of concern, favors and time. Users and takers should be pruned away for the life and the health of older people, we who just don’t have the energy to be taken advantage of anymore. Gerontologists call this pruning process “social selectivity” which means we older people get fussy about the company we keep. No more bad bosses over for fussy dinners.
Words to the wise
I talk these issues over with friends and they say they feel guilty saying no to time-wasters. But if we don’t honor our time, who will? Nobody else watches our hourglass. Minding time is a job that can’t be delegated. So maybe we should go ahead and get living as though we had just one more year.
Then do that for the next 30.
Mel Walsh is an author of four books, a radio host at KVMR-FM 89.5 and a gerontologist who writes about life after 50. Her new book, “Hot Granny,” Chronicle Books, is now available at your local bookstore or online. She and HOT GRANNY will be on national TV, Tuesday, May 8 on the v”Early Show” on CBS.
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