Shall I climb up that ladder to hang the bird feeder? I really want more birds to visit this winter, but I’m not sure about the ladder ... Crash! Bang! Boom! 911! Casts and doctors and three months of rest and rehab. Not a good choice by my friend in Santa Fe. Another friend hadn’t played tennis in 20 years and tore her Achilles tendon the first day back out.
When is it worth it to say, “No, I don’t want to do that?” Where is that edge of either being safe and secure vs. sorry and hurt in having pushed ourselves too far? As we age, I see that line moving closer and closer to safety and comfort.
All the studies say we must challenge ourselves, both physically and mentally, to age well. I’m hearing more and more stories from other aging friends about hesitating more, seeing if the proper safeguards are in place and the conditions are right before attempting something. Or, abstaining altogether.
A friend’s husband spent several days last summer on their roof doing repairs, all harnessed in, but made the decision to hire it out next time – too risky. These are just regular, everyday tasks that we are looking at more closely. Surviving this winter is another. Let alone the adventures and fun many of us still want to include in our lives.
My East Coast skier friend who’s 72 has skied all her life, and on those icy slopes in Vermont. She recently stopped one day after only two runs when it was exceptionally icy, very cold and she didn’t feel well. She thought it wise to not push herself, fearing a fall.
She and her husband were invited to CAT ski in Utah and declined because they no longer feel strong enough for all that deep powder. I wanted to jump off the cliff into the ocean with my kids in Hawaii, but I knew it would be too difficult just to make it up the path in bare feet.
None of us wants to get hurt. What was adventurous and fun, or even doing just daily things (walking on the ice recently), are now moving into that new category of risky. We are shifting into another new territory of aging. It’s just not worth the possible consequences to continue to live as we once did. Another loss.
We still want some excitement and enjoyment in our lives. I’m sure everyone has different stipulations and requirements to be in place before attempting something. Where we lie along that spectrum depends on our past experience, our confidence level and other extenuating circumstances, such as weather and fitness.
Of course, there is no guaranteed safety. It’s always about playing the odds and yet feeding that spirit that keeps us active and interested in the world. We must all find that comfortable state of balance between risk and safety. Pure risk leads to self-destruction, and pure safety leads to stagnation. In between lies well-being and a rich life.
Perhaps our new challenges are more internal. Dealing with loss and illness, sharing our wisdom with our communities, developing non-attachment and grace as we face our own deaths. These may be the new adventures now.
“Take risks: If you win, you will be happy; if you lose, you will be wise,” said an old sage long ago. I’m not so sure!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.