As we age, crossing lines with grace and even joy

Friday, Nov. 3, 2017 1:29 AM

There we were, in the Rio Grande Gorge watching the eclipse, the solar flares and being in the quiet stillness of the moment. “Do you hear the canyon wren?” she says.

In that life-changing moment, I realized I couldn’t. I could not hear the wren, my favorite bird call when I’m hiking in the canyons. A line was crossed, something I said I would never do: I decided then and there to get hearing aids! I now have the appointment with the audiologist, and I am all set to delve into this unknown, unwanted territory.

Many of us are crossing these unintended lines all the time now. One friend has just gotten that breathing machine for sleep apnea – she was tired of not sleeping, literally. Another doesn’t camp anymore because of the hard ground and must sleep in a camper or motel room. Another has given up skiing, a major part of his life. Another is unsteady while hiking now and is thinking of getting hiking poles. So many lines and so many crossings. These are things we thought we’d never do and here we are. Or instead, we just keep pushing the lines back and not dealing with them, as I did with my hearing. One friend says, “I trip over the lines all the time and then fall down on the other side.”

These are aging transitions, and the question is how to accept them with grace and even joy. How do we open enough to include them all, even the hearing aids? It seems so long ago that my hair turned gray and I got reading glasses and hand-railings on my deck. I accepted these things. I can do this next round. We all can.

Ram Dass talks about asking ourselves: Who are we now that our bodies are no longer what they were? What is the thing in us that has not changed, the “I” that is observing this process? If we know that we’re more than a body, we’re freer to relate to it differently. Seeing the body as part of nature feels different.

If we stay conscious of our tendency to cling to the past and dread the future, we can learn to accept our aging bodies with some dignity and good humor. Watching friends age and talking with them about these changes has helped me. It’s amazing how many people have hearing aids.

It’s important to be honest with ourselves about the aspects of our bodies that frighten us as we age. But our resistance to these transitions is all about fear – about not being who we thought we were, of appearing weak and aged to others, of withering away in our dwindling time until death. Instead of asking ourselves, “How can I fix this,” let’s stop and investigate these thoughts and feelings that surround the issue. This can transform the fear into a real acceptance.

Instead of berating ourselves that we’re more tired at the end of the day or night driving is getting harder, let’s view these new things as just different. Saying, “Oh, I’m having this, too,” with acceptance can lead us on our paths to our new evolutions. We’ll all find our way, either through sharing our stories with others, through humor, through spiritual practice or through expressing ourselves in art forms. Whatever it is, it’s critical we find some grace, rather than anger, morbidity or denial. No one said this was easy.

Where are your lines? What are you crossing, or just pushing back for now? The lines in the sand can’t keep retreating, or they’ll end up in the water. Or, as my friend said, we’ll fall down on the other side.

Martha McClellan was a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus now to the other end of life, and has written a book, The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game. Reach her at