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Wisdom and Direction, If Not Sheer Strength

February 14, 2008 By:
Mara Sokolsky, JE Feature
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We just survived our daughter's first winter break from college. How do you keep them down on the farm after three months of parent-free living? "I'm 18 now!" was her rallying cry as she left the house for yet another night of carousing with the old crowd. Nevertheless, the next morning found her kickboxing and swimming laps at the local JCC.

Well, that can really make a person feel old. Watching teenagers only highlights how long it's been since we could be so reckless with our well-being and expect to recover so quickly.

For those of us in midlife, keeping our body parts in some kind of working order requires the energy outlay of a part-time job. It's not just a matter of going to the gym. Our vision, our sleep patterns, our digestion and our memory are all uttering ever more insistent calls for attention.

How do we respond to these corporeal cries besides the usual krechtzing ("complaining")? We, who as a generation, grew up thinking that we'd be vital and youthful forever?

I suppose a little humbleness is in order. Although we're used to getting warranties for the objects we purchase, the same does not hold true for our bodies. We get only one padded skeleton, and it's meant to last a lifetime. It doesn't have to look or feel exactly as it did in our youth, but it's still designed to be functional till the end. And to keep it functional, we have to gradually moderate our behavior.

This is tricky for us since our legacy from the '60s is not one of moderation. Yet by this age, if not sooner, our insides revolt against excesses that previously went unnoticed. So more and more you hear: "I can't stay up like I used to" or "Sorry, no caffeine for me after 3 p.m." or "Is there a cushion I can put against this chair for my back?"

There is some internal logic here. When we're young, our energies are focused on finding our place in the world. Work, love, spiritual enlightenment -- we go after them one by one, throwing ourselves into the passions of the moment. We flail around and make mistakes. We recover. We get to try again.

By midlife, we're hopefully more ensconced in our place in the world. We don't need all that flailing energy, which is good because we don't really have it! Work, love and spiritual enlightenment have found some outlets: Our passions are more directed.

Along with an ingathering of wisdom and experience comes a physical ingathering as well. Our metabolism slows down. We have to think more about how we move so we don't injure ourselves.

Savor the Flavor
Of course, we're unhappy about this and mourn the passing of the youthful vigor we once relied on. But looked at through another lens, the slowing-down process has its merits.

If we can't eat and drink as we once did, then what we do imbibe is all the more savored. And though our days of quick and easy attachments are gone, the friendships and relationships we have now are much more solid, having survived over many years. If those friends are of a similar age, even better -- they can krechtz right alongside us.

Ten p.m. is a pivotal time in our household. It's the hour I aspire to get into bed, and it's the hour my daughter -- if she's home -- heads out the door to begin her nocturnal social life. Passing each other in the hallway, I'm tempted to remind her that I, too, once stayed up until 2 in the morning as part of the pulse of a 20-something life.

But that was eons ago. If I did that now, I'd be bleary-eyed and barely functional the next day.

At this point, a wild day for me involves drinking two cups of English Breakfast tea, instead of one. There is something rather resigned and poignant about letting go of vices in midlife. But as long as I have a bit of spring in my step, meaningful work to do and people I like around me, I'll try to keep my krechtzing to a minimum.

Mara Sokolsky is a freelance writer living in Providence, R.I. E-mail her with any comments at: [email protected].


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