“Regular” Old

“Regular” Old

Athletes are trained to know their bodies. Chemists, like me, know which medication to use for certain aches. “No pain, No gain” versus simply, “No pain.”

A friend of mine takes an Aleve® each night so she wakes up with less aches. I’ve always thought that “if I start that now, what will I need when I am age 70?” In this light, and unlike most athletes, I don’t want to listen to my body. I don’t like what it is saying to me!

Like most things, until one goes through the experience, we have no true idea of the challenge. At sixteen, I knew I could apply for a driver’s license. At eighteen, I had to register for Selective Service and had the right to register to vote. At twenty-one, I could legally buy an alcoholic drink or a firearm. At twenty-five, scientists told me that my brain should start thinking like an adult. (I am still waiting for this one…) 

My kids distinguish that after fifty (or thirty depending on their age) one is “regular” old and after seventy they are “old” old. While I am at the age where my kids’ wisdom still amuses me, I do wonder when “regular” old kicks in. People have neglected to tell me the proper age for when getting vertical in the morning would start to hurt – simply from sleeping. That age, often in denial, sneaks up on you.

The Ignatian in me started to ponder this biological change. Prior to this, I had already come to realize that since graduate school I’ve been running with my foot on the gas. It wasn’t any direct plan; I just went through life with the delusion that the goal in life was to rise up the corporate/research ladder and in doing this I was being a good provider for my family. That was the norm in my Midwest socialization. Like most guys my age, this delusion doesn’t drive me anymore. I’ve awakened to the meaninglessness of the chase. This is the game that drives men to heart attacks. This is the drive that is now leading women in the business world to heart attacks as well. Heart attacks were always diagnosed as a need for a “change in lifestyle.” At least to me, it was never explained as really being the need for a change in “values.”

The values of this chase are “pride” and “envy.” Before my Ignatian musings, I didn’t realize how much these two vices had on the American psyche. I shook my head in agreement when Jesus said, “I needed to love my neighbor.” Loving them is not inflicting evil on them, right? Wrong. I do inflict evil on them. My pride tells me that since I had to bust my booty to achieve levels of success, everyone else has to as well. In a research setting, pride was not accepting the person rather than their degree. My pride was seeing me starting work on time and worrying about the wages of those who started later. (Matthew 20:1-16) Growing up, I was told to take “pride” in myself and in my work. The lesson I learned in this was to measure myself against others.  

I never thought of myself as a person of envy. I shook my head in agreement when Christian philosopher Jeff Cook argued that envy is “the most miserable of the Seven (Vices).” He says, “Whereas Lust, Greed, Anger, Sloth, Gluttony, and Pride all offer the sinner the pleasures of sex, money, power, ease, food, or self-esteem, Envy offers the sinner nothing but misery.” In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus illustrates the reaction of the older son who was envious when his brother was forgiven and restored. (Luke 14. 11–32) The older son wasn’t miserable because he wanted what was given to his brother. He was miserable because he didn’t want his brother to have his good fortune.

Now in my discernment it became clear that “pride” and “envy” are tools of the Evil One that he loves to use on us. These vices are so well masked in our lives that we don’t even know they are a part of us until we stop and ponder our lives and our actions. “Keep that foot on the gas and be happy,” he’ll encourage us. All the time driving us to an early grave and distancing ourselves from others in our lives. 

Services such as Amazon Prime have made it so easy to satisfy our every whim. Recently, I’ve taken to not ordering anything on my first impulse. Instead, I write the item down and track my desire for a few days to then reflect on how much I really want or need the item. Interestingly, my number of Amazon orders has gone down. This latest attack from the Evil One has been thwarted for now. (or at least until Black Friday…)

The Ignatian in me told me my “ache” in the morning was more than lactic acid buildup. It was a message I needed to hear. My body is telling me that after fighting the good fight for many decades, that it is time to slow down. I ran the race “set before me” (Hebrews 12:1) but I focused on the wrong finishing line. Pride and envy encourage me to keep running without enjoying the scenery as I go by. The Evil One laughs as he sees me winded more than in years past. He whispers in our ear that not keeping pace is weakness. Sadly, we listen.

Having two people in my life drop dead shortly after retirement got my attention more than any ache in the morning. My heart “aches” for them and their loved ones left behind. Yet, I still run. Hopefully, at least, I am finally getting smarter about the races I’ll enter. Still, I push on encouraged by the Evil One to plan too much activity going forward. On good days, I’ll debate if the activity is simply to lure me back to the chase and marveling at how often I can see this attack when I stop to discern it.

Today, I need to be grateful that I am “regular” old and can ponder slowing down.  

My goal is to reach “old” old in good shape – both financially and medically. I can race with a gentler pace. The Evil One wants me winded, stressed and worried. Death is his victory, not God’s. God wants me focused 180° away from that.

Let us all pace ourselves and go for the “gold” in getting old…

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Written by
Deacon Gregory Webster