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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Joy of Aging

Yesterday I got an email message from my newly retired brother Jim. He attached a photo of my niece setting a school record in the high jump. As a school record holder a half century ago in the pole vault, I envied her youthful ability to defy gravity. Several years ago I realized I could no longer leave the ground under my own power without injury.

The last time my body took flight against my will, I was literally swept off my feet by a South Dakota dust devil. My wife Karen and I were on an Elderhostel trip in the Black Hills. One blustery afternoon, while walking along a gravel road, we encountered the tiny tornado. It lifted the two of us into the air and dropped us in a roadside ditch. She landed first. I tried to  avoid falling on her, keeping my arms outstretched in my descent. She later called my midair gyrations a vision of Superman in flight. We didn't reach the height of our niece's record-setting leap, but I like to think we captured some of the thrill she must have felt in clearing the bar.    

We recently returned from a trip to Iowa to see the couple we met in Elderhostel. Our visit with them was fun, but the travel was a bummer, beginning with our arrival in Denver for our connecting flight to Des Moines. Our flight from San Diego was late, so we had to race from Denver's Gate B24 to Gate B86 within about 20 minutes. In our younger days this would have been an exciting challenge. But the joy of aging has curbed our enthusiasm for physical challenges.   

Upon our attempt to board the swift moving sidewalk, our only hope of getting to Gate B86 on time to board our next flight, Karen fell, performing a ballet-like semi-splits on her way down. A young male flight attendant passing by lifted her to her feet and summoned a wheelchair. I couldn't help lift her because of my hernia, another joy of aging.

After pushing Karen's chair along the moving sidewalk, reaching an estimated speed of 20 mph, we arrived at Gate 86 in time to learn the plane to Des Moines had been delayed an hour.

The return flight home went smoothly, aside from several hours of panic that I'd left the car keys in our Des Moines hotel room, hoping we'd find them in our checked bag upon our arrival home in San Diego. We found them, and after breathing a sigh of relief, vowed to stay away from air travel for awhile, maybe forever. 

This week I'm scheduling surgery to repair my Little Buddy, the name I've given the irritating bulge that found a home beneath my unmentionables. Then I'll schedule the cataract surgery.

The good news about the joy of aging is the wealth of opportunities for personal development, set aside or remaining undiscovered amid the distractions of youth.

I've discovered a passion that came as a complete surprise: a quest to conquer calculus. After skipping 5th grade and getting lost in fractions, I concluded I hated math. But now, through online instruction in the free Kahn Academy, I've achieved mastery in Algebra and am navigating my way, with baby steps, through geometry and trig. I work at this about three hours a day, while Karen is writing her next novel in another room. After her eBooks are published on Kindle, Nook, iPad and iBooks, I get to be her publicist---which is a somewhat related to my earlier career in university recruitment and enrollment management.

About an hour each day I play one of my four instruments: guitar, ukulele, banjo, and mandolin, singing my favorite folksongs and golden oldies, picturing an adoring audience of septuagenarians raising their glowing cell phones in appreciation. Karen got me a balalaika for my birthday, so I've begun learning finger positions on that strange, three-string Russian instrument.

Next week Karen and I begin a six-week class on San Diego History, offered through Cal State San Marcos extended learning.    

So, despite the relentless march toward physical incapacity, there can be joy in aging. If you're lucky enough to do it with someone you love.

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