One of my new friends here is a tall, slender, vivacious woman in her eighties. She is so bubbly that I am tempted to describe her as a girl in her eighties, but political correctness and some concern that – this would be a long shot – she may be offended, restrain me. She always seems positive and up for any adventure, in spite of the fact that she was recently in the hospital due to hemorrhaging. Today, she had difficulty getting up from her chair. Another woman and I encouraged her to see a doctor. She insisted that no, she wanted to see if the problem would away on its own, first. She said, “if he (the doctor) is young, single, and good-looking, I’ll go.”
I came home from the gathering feeling really tired, worn out. Who knows why? Sometimes I feel this way. Am I getting sick? What is that pain in my chest, my knees, my shoulder, my stomach? It has been my habit to call my doctor about anything that might possibly be slightly wrong. I have been to the ER twice with migraines. It’s becoming obvious that I can’t go on running to the doctor with every ache and pain. For one thing, medicare doesn’t cover every single office visit and each esoteric pill like my previous medical insurance. I’m sure I’ll have much more to say about that soon. But, more importantly, as I’m learning from my friend; as we age we face a choice: Is our life going to be about our aches and pains, or is it going to be about living?
I – with some reservations – subscribe to a philosophy, a central tenet of which is that our thoughts create our experience. We may not have control over events in our lives (here the philosophy becomes subtle and complex, because ultimately we do have responsibility for what happens to us) but we definitely have control over our response to these events. One person could total his car and experience anger and resentment, while another person might say, “This is great! Time for a new car,” or even,”a perfect reminder to stop driving and use more sustainable transportation.”
Thoughts, of course, are carried in words. When I complain about my aches and pains, not only am I a smashing bore, but according to this philosophy I am potentially creating even more anguish for myself. I think after a certain age, people understand this. Social conditioning takes over, and to avoid total isolation, most of us learn to shut up about the upcoming operation, the blurry vision and need for new glasses, the arthritic pain and trouble standing up. We learn to grin and bear it. This doesn’t mean that the dialogue inside our heads has stopped, or that we will really be free of disease just from pretending it isn’t there. That takes a much more thorough approach. For now, I am learning to shut up.