Can We Be Too Old?

We all know the expression, “You’re as old as you think or feel.” Yes, there’s a physical reality to aging, but even more importantly, there’s an emotional and spiritual reality. Too many people give up on activities just because of age. The real danger here is the giving up on life because we’re too old.

Joyce and I are 76. We can no longer physically do some of the things we used to do. Joyce is a gardener. She grows the most beautiful flowers all around our house. But she no longer has the physical endurance to be out working in the garden as much as she used to. So she chooses the jobs that bring her the most joy, and lets our beloved gardener (a refugee from El Salvador) who comes once a month, do the rest, especially the hard stuff.

True confession: I love softball! I love the feeling of the pitched ball meeting the “sweet” spot on the bat and hitting a line drive into the outfield. I no longer have the strength to hit the ball over the outfielder’s head, or over the fence for a home run. But a clean base hit really does it for me. And I love fielding the ball, getting under the long arc in the outfield, and hearing the snap of the ball hitting the glove (especially when it stays in the glove). Perhaps my favorite is playing infield and the feeling of quick reflexes to stop a hard-hit grounder or line drive.

I gave up softball six years ago when I had too much knee pain. Then I got a knee replacement and was told running would put too much stress on the new knee. But I missed softball too much to completely give it up. This past year, I tried practicing with a local 55-and-older senior league, the Santa Cruz Irregulars, but quickly realized that most of the players were closer to 55 than 76. They were too competitive for me. So I placed an ad on Craigslist for non-competitive softball players, men or women, any skill level. Initially, I made a mistake and titled the ad, “Softball Just for Fun.” I got a few legitimate responses, but I also got responses from people wanting fun in other ways. You have to be careful what you put on Craigslist. I quickly changed the ad to “Non-Competitive Softball,” and got more appropriate responses.

One of the responders, who has now become a regular, is a man in his fifties who had a stroke. Before his stroke, he was an excellent, and competitive, ball player. Now he can still run to get quickly to the ball, he hits better and farther than the rest of us, but his throwing is the most affected by the stroke. He loves getting out there with us and doing what he still can do.

I mentioned what I love about softball. Now I need to share my limitations. I am by far the oldest person on the field. I love hitting, but I can’t hit nearly as many balls as the other players. We have perhaps 75 balls in several crates and buckets for pitching. Aside from the bad pitches, that’s a lot of swings. I have to pay close attention to my limit, and stop when my body says stop.

Then there’s fielding. I can run, but slowly and for only a short distance. A fly ball to the outfield has to be carefully evaluated. If I can get under it without injuring my knees by running too far or too fast, great! If I can’t, and the younger, more competitive, part of me says “go for it, no matter what,” I have to choose the wiser path and just let that ball meet the grass instead of my glove. Nobody’s running the bases. Nobody will be judging or heckling me. There’s no competition.

And it’s the same when I play infield. There’s even less time to get to the ball before it sails or rolls past me. Same rules apply. If I can get my glove on the ball without stressing, and therefore injuring, my body, therein lies the victory – and the wonderful feeling. The last Saturday I practiced, a ground ball was hit just out of my reach. Instinctively, I quickly removed my glove and threw it at the ball. Miraculously, the ball was caught by the flying glove to the loud cheering of everyone present. It was the “play of the day!”

Okay, enough about softball. I am encouraging the seniors among us to simply modify the activities we love, rather than dropping them completely, or saying “I’m too old for this.” Our bodies need physical exercise. The trick is to combine physical exercise with something you love, and then the physical exercise is no longer a chore. I still love rafting rivers, but now choose easier rivers. I love backpacking into the wilderness, but find the easiest and quickest ways to get into the wilderness areas. A friend of ours loves her Zumba dance classes. She is close to our age, goes almost daily, does the moves that work for her body, and has a blast!

In addition to physical activity, there are mental, emotional and spiritual activities. Don’t be tempted to give older age as an excuse for giving up writing, art, music, singing, learning new things, developing a new hobby (or continuing an existing one). Joyce and I sincerely hope we can continue leading our beloved retreats, counseling our clients, writing, and recording our weekly videos for many more years.

Can you be too old? I don’t think so.

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