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Growing Old – Personal Reflections

June 15, 2016

As a boy, it’s more about “growing up.” During the busy middle years with work and family, there is little time to think about the future. Retirement is not a concern. And health is taken for granted. When sick, I went to the Doctor, took medicine, and got better. Even when I retired, and through my 70s, though I was slowing down and noticing increasing aches and pains, it was much the same.

But in my middle 80s, I began to notice a change. The increasing stiffness in my legs from the spinal stenosis was beginning to limit my activity. I was not sleeping as soundly or as comfortably as before. I had to stop bicycling with Jean. I cannot stoop down easily to pick things up or do any weeding in the garden. Any small chores around the house like making the bed or getting meals are harder – with increasing aches in my back and legs. My two canes are essential now for walking – both for steadiness and for keeping aches to a minimum.

When I see my image in a store window, I now see an old man, stooped, with a cane, and I am surprised, for that is not the image I feel about myself. For the ME inside me has not changed. I am interested in what’s going on around me. I read the Washington Post and watch CNN, still interested in the variety of stories from around the world. I enjoy going to the Postal Museum each week, telling stories to the visitors from all over the world. Riding Metro in the rush hour with all the crowds of other human beings gives me the feeling that I am still a functioning part of society. And having Jean as such a central part of my life gives me purpose and meaning for each day.

I recognize that I am in a new phase. Or rather, my body is in a new phase. I have come to understand that the ME that is me is not my body, although it is closely identified with it. I am increasingly resigned to the fact that my body is what is becoming old. I am increasingly aware of that “me” within my body and aware of the essential aloneness of each of us – even when surrounded by others. That does not necessarily mean loneliness, although we see much loneliness in the world. No, I am not lonely. I enjoy each day, much of it by myself as Jean is so busy with real estate clients. I enjoy our breakfasts at Crèpes á Go Go or Panera Bread with my wife, Jean, and other friends. I do so enjoy my grandchildren, Elizabeth and Alex, who have lived nearby all their lives . I am fascinated watching their development day by day.  What a prrivilege.

I now realize that the aging process is something that starts when our lives begin. It is a fact of all life. Elizabeth and Alex are aging day by day just as I am. The difference for me is in my awareness of it, and I can look back on a whole lifetime of development and growth and change that has been “me.” So in my aging, I have come to recognize that I am a specific individual, an integral part of all of life, a living participant in this constantly evolving universe.

I am grateful that my mind is still active, and that I can still read. I particularly enjoy history and biography. I had only two required history courses in all of high school and college. But when I was teaching Physics at Hamilton College in my 20s, I got interested in both the history of science and the history of the Protestant Reformation and recognized that they are related. Later, living in Lexington, Massachusetts, I explored the Revolutionary period of American History, and then broadened to include the Civil War period when I moved to Maryland. My travel with Smithsonian tours to Venice and Vienna and Prague introduced ne to the middle ages and the Hapsburgs, and my more recent bike tour of the Mosel valley took me back to earlier Roman times. My trip to Kyoto took me into the ancient oriental stories. The sweep of history is fascinating.

I am still studying and learning. My room with my desk and bookshelves is not my office, but my study. With my background in science, I have been fascinated by the newest developments in science, in the current thinking about space-time and the latest in cosmology, about our evolving universe, including the evolutionary development of life – especially the evolution of us as humans. What is it that makes us human? Those “how” questions lead me to the “why” and “who” questions of theology and my continuing study of the Bible. Bishop John Shelby Spong has written two books recently that articulate for me much of my present thinking, Eternal Life, and The Fourth Gospel, the latter being a new interpretation of the Gospel of John which gives new meaning to me of Jesus and God. The essays in this blog are the result of my continuing education.

Another activity has been creating and maintaining my computer files on our expenses and investments. I first created my own spread sheets in 1989 with the original VisiCalc on the first PC, and have been expanding and refining them ever since – using Lotus and now Excel. They have become a game to me, my “crossword puzzle”, keeping my mind active and challenged. I have gone way beyond anything like Quicken, finding it fun to create and adjust formulas, formats and fonts and tailoring the files to fit my specific needs. I recognize that I go into much more detail that anyone else even cares to know. And it must sound mundane and boring to everyone else. The useful results of tax input and check reconciliation and knowing where our money is spent are just nice fall outs from what is a mind-challenging activity each day that is fun and play for me. It’s my toy.

Since becoming a Docent at the National Postal Museum in 2006, I started collecting stamps which are now in two stamp albums, each one a three-inch binder! I have become amazed at the tiny artistic marvels that have captured art and history and people and stories of our country and of us. Many stamps are exquisite pieces of art themselves. My albums are not about rarities or monetary value. They are story books about people, art, and American history. The first Album has a short introductory section of enlargements of a dozen or so of my favorite stamps. Then there is a section on Artistry in Stamps, illustrating the gorgeous artistry portrayed both by famous artists and by the stamp designers themselves. The rest of the first Album is the history of the issuing and printing of the regular U.S. stamp issues, illustrated by representative stamps of each of those issues over the years from 1847. The second Album is a survey of American History, illustrated by the commemorative stamps issued starting in 1893. This is followed by a section of series of stamps, each one grouped by a common theme, such as Abraham Lincoln, Hollywood Stars, Olympics, Sports Heroes, American Architecture, Bridges, Ships, and Trains. I take great pleasure turning the pages and rereading the stories I have written about the stamps on each page.

A delightful byproduct of aging is the accumulation of so many memories – of love and joy, of family and friends, of other places and other times, of schools and churches, of sights and sounds. My Mother was a lovely woman, capable and assured, gentle and loving. I never heard her raise her voice in anger. And I heard my Father comment so many times how much he adored her. My Father was a Methodist minister for forty-three years, mostly in the Boston area. He was a District Superintendent and for several years before retirement, he headed up the ministers’ retirement fund with an office in Copley Square, Boston, right next door to the IBM office in my first year with IBM. Several times we had lunch together as two businessmen at the Copley Plaza Hotel across the square. I had a brother 5½ years older who was my mentor in many ways. I remember his riding me on his bike to the Oriental Theater for Saturday double features. What a privilege for me to grow up in such a loving home. Too many children today don’t have that experience.

My three years of high school at Mount Hermon School in western Massachusetts were formative and life-changing in so many ways. Discovering the Periodic Table was an epiphany for me with the amazing order and interrelation of all the elements. It confirmed my interest in science. And the required Bible course each year, gave me the foundation of all my later study of the Bible and religion. The campus of rolling hills and huge trees and green lawns in the Connecticut River valley was idyllic. And at Northfield Seminary across the river, I met Polly Kidder, my future wife. Of all the memories that come back to me now, those of Mount Hermon are the most frequent and pleasurable.

I have had three chapters in my family life. First as a boy with my Mother and Father and older brother, Merlen. Then for 43 years with my wife, Polly, with our children Susan and David and Elizabeth, and now, after Polly’s death from Muscular Dystrophy, for the past 19 years with a wonderful second marriage with Jean and her now grown Lydia and Mark. And all my grandchildren. It’s all wonderfully additive, with each chapter building on the earlier. It’s finding what love is all about. Only now do I realize how basic this sense of family is in our lives. It’s in our DNA.  It’s in our awareness of and our relation to all other life around us. We are a part of the 13.8 billion years of evolution. We still have tribal instincts and fears of strangers – all part of our animal survival instincts. But as human beings with our amazing brains and the experience of love within a family, we become aware that there is more within us than animal instincts. We are an integral part of this living Earth and of the entire Universe.  Family to me now includes all of life and all the Universe.  And that’s how I begin to experience God.

Loren Bullock
June 20, 2014
rev June 12, 2016

From → Personal

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