Recently, I met a good friend for breakfast. He and I have known each other for about 35 years. We’ve not been together in-person for over two years because of COVID, so we did a lot of smiling.
And the conversation was wide ranging. I talked about Conscious Aging, of course. Somewhere along the way we shared a little “organ recital.” I brought up getting massages regularly for some lower back pain, Harold shared his experience with shoulder surgery and recovery last year. At one point, he raised his arm up to his head and commented that it wasn’t 100%. Something about this comment resonated, but I could only take note of it as I continued to listen to what he was telling me.
A few minutes later, I realized what had caught my attention about Harold’s 100% comment. His “mobility standard” had changed, but he hadn’t realized it yet. Or, perhaps he realized it but couldn’t articulate it yet. Harold was still using how he could move his arm prior to shoulder surgery as the standard by which he judged his recovery. He was unconsciously assuming that his mobility would get back to pre-surgery performance, not realizing that those days were probably gone forever. However he could move his arm now was his new 100%.
I am not suggesting that nobody can ever return to pre-surgery mobility, or even surpass it. I am only commenting about my friend Harold, and I could be wrong about him. Nonetheless, it is inevitable that our mobility will change as we age. Loss, as well as opportunity, is just part of being alive. Our standards must evolve as well.
When I brought this up to Harold, he shook his head in agreement and we shared conversation about the differences between adulthood and “post-adulthood.” I commented that we are in a new phase for our species and we don’t even have the right words yet. We’ve added more longevity to our species’ life span since 1900 than all of previous human existence. Fifty years ago, retirement meant winding down slowly for three or four years before eventually dying. Today, those three or four years are more like 30 or 40 years.
What will we do — as individuals and as a society — with those years? The concept of “retirement” is already changing. Will the idea of a work career change? Will institutions employ older people instead of discarding us?
Harold got it right away. He brought up how, if we get to live long enough, our adulthood phase can change into our post-adulthood phase, with its own set of standards and judgments. He wondered what those standards might be. Perhaps solitude (as opposed to loneliness) becomes more attractive. Perhaps what’s really important to us as adults will change as we age into post-adulthood.
I added that this transition can be made even more difficult because of ageism. Our ageist society holds that young is good, old is bad, so who really wants to get old? But just like Harold will probably embrace his new 100% mobility standard, we can embrace new post-adulthood standards.
Our breakfast conversation continued for a few more hours. We’d missed one another, and we kept smiling.
Marc Blesoff is a former Oak Park village trustee, co-founder of the Windmills softball organization, co-creator of Sunday Night Dinner, a retired criminal defense attorney, and a novice beekeeper. He currently facilitates Conscious Aging Workshops and Wise Aging Workshops in the Chicago area.