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Over time, I’ve been nagged by an annoying thought and it just won’t go away. I’ve tried to ignore it, discount it, and ridicule it, but it is persistent. The other evening, I was walking from one room to another, and noticed my gait—slow and gentle. And there was the truth: I was slowing down, undeniably, and in some ways, disturbingly.
Now you have to understand that most of my life I have put a high value in doing things—almost anything—quickly. I might not be the smartest person, but I was fast and efficient and could run circles around many people. I took pride is this talent for a long time. Finally, I began to notice that I was striving to do things quickly that just were not all that important; they certainly did not demand my meeting a deadline. I also realized that trying to do everything at warp speed was causing me a great deal of stress, but I was the only one who seemed to care about this ability. So, I made a concerted effort to slow myself down. I realized how valuable this goal was when one day, I had rushed home from a work-out and had another obligation to fulfill—not one I was particularly interested in. I decided I simply was not going to rush, but instead took my time. Out of curiosity, I checked the clock when I was ready to leave, and was astounded to realize that I had showered and changed in record time! It wasn’t possible! But, in fact, I discovered when I was simply attentive to what I was doing, timeliness would often take care of itself.
So, what does my discovery of 25 years ago have to do with my slowing down now?
My current slowing down is not voluntary.
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The slowing down that I’m experiencing is touching on every aspect of my life. When I go on my morning walks, I’ve changed my gait. We have an increasing number of uneven sidewalks, and I’ve had two spills with a scraped chin and knees. I also don’t think it’s a good idea to walk in the street instead. I’ve realized that when I take large steps, it messes with my center of gravity. So now I am walking just a bit slower and taking smaller steps; it’s only lengthened my walk by a few minutes (depending on whether I stop to pet the local dogs).
The more disturbing changes, however, are my mind. I’m not panicking; I know the early signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s and they don’t describe me. But I am simply not thinking as quickly as I used to think. My brain is less agile, less timely, and it makes me uncomfortable, as I wait for my mind to engage at my preferred rate. Naturally, my physical state, alert or tired, also affects my thinking. There’s no denying, however, that I’m just not as mindful or alert.
There is also my temporarily forgetting a name, a number, the name of a place, a recent occurrence. I know those are a normal part of the aging process—until they are not. I’ve been dropping things, too, and in part I’m just not paying as much attention to my actions.
It’s not like I’m not making an effort to hold off the inevitable: in addition to walking two miles, five days a week, I exercise in the gym. I’ve even recovered 50% bone density in my right hip in my last bone density scan. I also do prayer and meditation every day.
But all those efforts are clearly not going to hold off the aging process indefinitely.
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Don’t think this gradual transformation is only depressing; there are a number of pluses. I give myself permission to take my time doing many things. I also take more time to notice the beauty around me on a sunny day. I’m more likely to notice a single bud on the desert rose plant; my favorite duck (named Daphne) out on the pond; the joy of scratching the ears of a dog. I speak my mind more often, although I try to be kind in my word choice. I let others help me out with demanding tasks, since I have nothing to prove. Younger folks hold open doors for me, or help me lift a heavy object, or simply ask if they can help. I like the idea, as my hair grays, that I am a fount of aged wisdom (okay, maybe that’s going too far!) and people look to me for input. That kind of respect is gratifying . . . . So new experiences emerge when I slow down.
* * * * *
So, I’m compelled to look more closely at the person who stares back at me in the mirror. Not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. What does it mean to be 71 years old? How can I best appreciate reaching this milestone in my life, when slowing down is sufficiently evident that it can’t be ignored? How can I gracefully move into the future with the joy and anticipation of my seniority and compassion for myself for my limitations?
Those, my friends, are the questions I’m asking.
And I’m grateful to be alive to ask them.Published in