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A Jarful of Jelly Beans

I’ve talked about getting older a lot in this blog, perhaps too often for the likes of some. But the whole point of this is to talk about the lessons of life as seen through an old codger such as myself – mostly in hopes that it will afford some perspective of the whole aging process for my younger readers. And sadly, for those who don’t like the subject matter, I am about to pen another one.

I am lucky that I get to complain about aging, many of my friends were not fortunate enough to do so. Every week it seems I hear of another friend leaving this life, often far too soon. Aging is not for the faint of heart – frankly, it sucks – the Golden years my ass! Truth is, we begin aging the day we’re born, although my take on that is slightly different: we begin declining the day after we peak. When we peak is subjective, but it involves a number of things: a decline in visual acuity, hair loss or greying, can’t run or swim as fast or as far, waning of reaction times and coordination, etc. There is no one item, it is a long list of things that begin to falter or fail with the advancement of age, and it unique and personal to each individual. But it is unstoppable and inevitable for all of us.

But this post is different, I think I’ve exhausted the ways to point out my personal decline with age, so this is not about the ebbing of my physical skills; this post is about facing the fact that I am running out of time.

Nooooooooo… I did not receive bad medical news – no current (or static) health issues spurring this particular post. It is not because I feel unwell, it is not because I’ve had a premonition, and it is not because my world has been turned upside down with the tragic and unexpected loss of a dear friend. It is because, much like the person completely enveloped in embracing a summer’s day – eventually they begin to recognize the signs that the sun is beginning to set and that this beautiful day is coming to an end – that the time remaining to bask in that warmth is rapidly diminishing.

I am a little past mid-60’s and I am in reasonably good shape – I can still hike 15 miles without water and come back in one piece and I can still split gnarly red oak with an 8lb maul for hours in 80-degree weather. I am nowhere the shape I was in ten years ago but I think I am doing pretty good. But for how long? When you are 40 and fall out of shape for whatever reason, getting back into shape is quite achievable – not necessarily easily – but certainly achievable. But at 66? Getting laid up by anything, be it a broken bone, illness, or whatever, would likely make getting back “into shape” a pipe dream.

The body’s power to renew and rebuild wans with time and, at some point, it leaves and never comes back. A fact of life. But a fact most folks never consider until they begin approaching that point; I know I didn’t… until just recently. And that thought is extremely disconcerting. We’ve all heard the phrase “your days are numbered”. Certainly no one knows the actual count, but you can feel pretty good about your odds at 36, but it feels a whole lot different at 66 – trust me!

Consider eating a jar of jelly beans, you dip in and pull out a handful and the jar barely notices the missing handful. But dip into that jar again and again and after a while you begin to find it a bit more difficult to grab a quick handful. Beans begin to scurry away from you fingers because there is more jar than beans. And at one point, as you’re dipping deeply, your fingers will touch the bottom of the jar and you realize that time is running out on your jelly beans.

Of course, life-energy is a bit different than jelly beans! But it is just one more analogy to the realization we all face as we age – we’re running out of jelly beans – and there is nothing you can do about it. Nothing, that is, except to try to live with purpose; try to make the most of each day, don’t wait for next week or month or year to go on that trip or to try something you’ve always wanted to take a shot at. Because while there may still be time (and that is not a given) your body may no longer be up for it.

And there begin the dilemmas: do I continue to hoard and protect my IRA or do I begin drawing from it spend it? Do I buy a boat or motorcycle? Or do I take the clan to Disney? Or do I take my wife to Tahiti or Japan or Egypt or Italy? My parents waited – too long. By the time they got around to it, the wheels came off mom’s bus and that was the end of their retirement fun, it was all downhill after that. A little the same with my wife’s parents, even though they both lived to a decent age; but cancer, knee and hip replacements, and the like emptied their jelly bean jar before its time.

There are no answers here, only more questions. The lesson in all this <smiling knowingly and a bit self-righteously>? The lesson of life is that life is the lesson; there is no pass or fail, only continuous learning. Stay well dear reader…and take smaller handfuls of those jelly beans!

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