Is That All There Is?
An audio/video playlist for reaching seniorhood
I’m in my 65th year in this physical world. WTF? In much younger days, when this stage of life was so far away, and it seemed as if it would never really come, I basically ignored the warnings playing on the radio. In 1969, Peggy Lee sang about life unfolding, with the refrain, “Is that all there is?” And in 1980, Talking Heads asked, in their song Once in a Lifetime, “How did I get here?” Adding, “You may say to yourself, ‘My God, what have I done?’” Those songs come back to haunt me now.
In 1969, I was 12. Forty-two years ago, in 1980, I was married only a year, and we had just bought a house that September. For a while, life went on “same as it ever was” (more Talking Heads), until it didn’t. Kids grow up, life and priorities change, homes are sold. Did I make the right decisions? Did I achieve my goals? What seemed so important –staying fit and toned, looking good and young—becomes either a struggle to turn back time (another song, by Cher), or the resolution to just go with the flow, and be glad life goes on. As Peggy Lee sang, “If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing.” We just dance a little more slowly, and maybe with a different partner, or just alone on the dance floor of life.
Hearing people around me talking about “having to lose weight,” or not wanting to do something until they look better, or they make a certain amount of money, or they meet the right person, led me to the conclusion that I need to live life where I am and enjoy who I am now—accepting or embracing my limitations as well as my new abilities. Getting older is really a gift in many ways, and in this age of information and discovery, I am drinking in the ideas and information that others are sharing online to the point that I can hardly keep up with all that’s available for the viewing. But I’ve decided, every time I try to act as if I am 35 instead of 65, I get hurt. If I try to indulge the way I did in my youth, my body rebels and won’t let me sleep, or stop coughing, or feel good in general. That’s the sign it’s time for a change.
Some things I’ve discovered include fitness goals. I’m not trying to turn back time and pretend I can still compete with women young enough to be my children. I’ve known for a long time about the benefits and some of the philosophies of Chi Gong, Tai Chi, and meditation. I realized recently that I just never have let myself sit still enough or believed that I could ignore the rigor of aerobics and weight training. The aches and pains that go with trying to maintain that kind of training, combined with my body’s desire to rest rather than run or compete, have forced me to admit that though I don’t look the way I did in my 30s,“You’re only pretty as you feel” (Jefferson Airplane, 1971). And with that realization, I was able to discover new ways to enhance my strength, energy, health, and state of mind that fit better with my current needs.
- Feel good. I recognize the feeling of stress that builds in me when I watch or focus too much on news that is upsetting. I allow myself to listen to what is in the news, but when I feel anger welling up inside, I make myself change to an audiobook that makes me happy, a video that makes me laugh or smile (my favorite is Kirsten & Joerg’s travels through the UK), or music that makes me want to dance. The adage that laughter is the best medicine is almost true. It is the second-best medicine. Love is the best medicine. And as Stephen Stills sang, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”—YOURSELF.
- Mindfulness. It’s not just about remembering where you put your keys, or parked your car, or what your passwords are. When I first started reading mindfulness meditation books, I deliberately—out loud—would describe the car I was driving behind and repeat the license plate number out loud, and recite the route I was taking, telling myself that I was slowing down now because the light was red, and turning right onto a particular street, noting what time it was. This was something I knew was an important thing to do when driving to avoid mindless activity at 60 miles per hour. As a typist in the 1980s for stenographers who took dictation at examinations before trial (depositions), I knew what kinds of questions attorneys asked people who sued after car accidents or for injuries based on negligence. The lawyers wanted to know: did you see the car coming? When did you first see the other car? What speed were you driving? Did you use your blinker? How soon before turning did you put on your blinker? Did you step on the brake before or after turning on your blinker? What color was the light when you turned? And so on. When I was being mindful, I took notice of ALL those things. Who does that? Most people don’t. I’ve even seen people reading the paper as they were driving on the FDR Drive in Manhattan. Focus. It’s not done enough.
My father’s favorite saying was, “Make A List” (He always spoke in threes: “close the door,” “wipe your feet,” “shut the refrigerator”). That is my most-used mindfulness practice—using a white board calendar in my kitchen and a daily planner every year. Immediately writing shopping needs, appointments, and bill paying dates on the white board when I think of them has saved me from forgetting really important things. I back it all up in my planner, with details and other lists—movies I want to see or have seen, books to read, doctors’ visits, travel dates and flight information, gifts I’ve bought, purchases I want to make or have made, personal projects I’m working on or want to do. And I bring it forward to the following year. In addition, 55 years of diaries to refer to are the antidote to memories fading–because feelings, events, and conversations can be important to remember years later. Someone else has said look back at your social media posts and photos to jog your memory. Wouldn’t it be nice to combine those photos with a diary or planner? It might answer the burning question when seeing those old pics: “What was I thinking?”
- Balance. Balance in the mind and balance in the body is more important to me, and it’s what researchers, doctors, and life coaches tell us to do. Books are written about why to do it and how to do it. TV talk shows feature experts who say we lose our sense of physical balance as we age, and they urge us to practice balancing on one leg and the other. They tell us to move, to step and stand in a balanced position so as not to fall. That’s why I’ve begun doing Chi Gong and Tai Chi after entering my 60s. During the pandemic, not going to the fitness room (which was closed, and when it opened was still too scary to go to), I explored YouTube videos and livestream Zumba classes. I even hesitated to walk in public, and living in Florida, avoided going out on hot days for walks or bike rides. So, I discovered, along with many other people, some good YouTube walking, low impact, band resistance, and chair exercise options—and some of these YouTubers really became popular and made a living just doing videos. There were nutrition and exercise gurus saying how important it was to move your body for at least 10 minutes after every meal, or who advised walking 5000 to 10,000 steps per day. So I found Keoni Tamayo Reps to the Rhythm on YouTube who posts how many steps and how many minutes each of his walking/dancing workouts offer, and I could pick anywhere from 1000 steps for 11 minutes to 10,000 steps in just over an hour and fifteen minutes, all in my living room. I worked my muscles with band resistance along with Jenny McClendon Fit Start, who began her YouTube videos doing low impact movements to ‘70s music in front of her garage. I even did dance lessons online with Dancing with the Stars’ Max and Val Chmerkovskiy Dance With Me videos. But my most recent balance efforts take in the Eastern medicine focus on meridians and energy flow through movement. I follow Chunyi Lin on Clarity Coaching’s YouTube channel to ease into my day, getting the energy flow going, moving for health, and combining that with easy walking inside or outside, and an occasional short ride on my touring bike on a local bike path. Easy peasy. I also find YouTubers who offer advice, research and experience for balancing my diet (Dr. Mandell on Motivational Doc), food preparation and storage (Off Grid with Doug and Stacy), and meditation (Silva Method, Brian Scott-Reality Revolution, and Elmer O. Locker, Jr., to name a few). But most importantly, I also try exercising balance by just taking a day off from doing anything.
- Appreciation. By the age of 65, we are at a point where most of us realize that taking things for granted is not realistic. Change is inevitable, and though it sometimes brings good things into our path, it both gives and takes away. People we’ve loved, and may have thought would always be in our lives, move away, or die, or change in some way, themselves, and our relationship is not what it once was. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, people seemed to work at a job for a long time, and security was almost a given. Families often settled in towns to stay for decades, possibly in the same place where their own childhood homes had been. It seemed that a home, job, car, grandma, grampa and the kids, friends and neighbors would always be around for Sunday dinner, the summer vacation or backyard barbecue, birthdays and holidays. By age 65, it’s clear that some, if not all of this can disappear from our lives. It becomes more valuable to us, if we’re paying attention, to appreciate things, and take care of them – relationships with loved ones and friends, as well as material things we care about. I appreciate my home and job after having a rough period of no work, and no place of my own. I appreciate old friends when I see them on Facebook—they share my history. And I appreciate new friends who take time to be there when I need them, or who think to share a meal, or coffee or an evening with me—even just a conversation or text to let me know they are thinking of me or want to share some news. (“You like me, you like me!”)
- Let It Go. When I turned 60, I consciously acknowledged that there were just some things I was never going to do in this lifetime that I had kept in the back of my mind thinking someday I would try them out. I knew that time constraints, physical limitations, financial priorities, and just lack of interest were not going to allow me to be all I thought I could or would be. This is the end of the funnel, when all the contents poured into the wide open end of life in my teens and 20s have winnowed down to the narrower end of life when I have to decide what makes it through to the end. It’s kind of like a Marie Kondo moment, but not with possessions. It is about what experiences do I love doing most? What people do I want to be with the most, and who do I need to let go of? What are my priorities—more pleasure or avoiding pain? Money or free time? Things or experiences? Independence or partnership? Holding a grudge, or practicing forgiveness? As the song (Let It Go) says: “It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small; And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all.” Time passing changes perspective.
It’s good to take an accounting of where we are in life, I think. When life is busy, and we have a lot to look forward to, and a lot to take care of, it’s easy to close our eyes to the passage of time as well as what’s truly important.
But the big question I wonder about is the one the Beatles asked: “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64” (or more)?