Dave: I was asked to be on a panel about aging for a “Wellness” Conference, “Aging with Attitude”. I did some reflecting on Aging with Attitude. It was clear to me that I am Aging and that I have Attitude. I included the following story in my remarks.
A few months ago I had one of my regular phone conversations with an old friend, Paul Chapman. Our friendship goes back to college years. We worked at a YMCA camp in those summers, taking kids on 10 day canoe trips. We had a perpetual conversation about life and how it works. We talked in metaphors. I didn’t know it then, but looking back we were pretty good at it. And in fact that way of talking, using metaphorical reality in conversation, became a model for talking about life. The most important therapeutic reality is metaphorical reality. Metaphorical reality grounded In imagination is me using myself and my experience to think about and to comment on the world and on experience. My imagination is a universe constituted of all my experience, conscious and unconscious. That way of talking, those conversations had a strong influence on my relationship to language in my work as a Psychiatrist/Psychotherapist.
Paul and I worked for the YMCA. Christianity was an important component of those discussions. I had a short fervent period back in those days. Although by the time I was half way through college the fervor faded. I wouldn’t say it was something I believed in, it was something we shared and made use of to understand our experiences. It was a metaphorical framework we used to think about living and loving.
We were pals until our late 20’s, then our lives gradually grew apart and we went off in different directions, touching base only infrequently. Paul was a scientist and worked his way into the business of science, and I was in Medicine, the Air Force, then Psychiatry and Family Therapy. It happened we reunited after about 35 years and have been taking an annual river canoe trip 4-5 days for the past 10 years or so. Two guys on a five-day canoe trip spend a lot of time in conversation, including story-telling and even some vigorous debating. We are a little grouchier than we used to be. Picture two old guys paddling a canoe on the Mississippi River into a headwind and having an argument. The words blow all over the place, but the conversation goes on. Away from the river we talk on the phone fairly regularly.
One night we got into talking about being old.
I mentioned that we worked for a YMCA camp when we were young. The YMCA’s symbol is an inverted triangle, body mind and spirit. My friend was reflecting on the triangle and the components, the relationship of the components to one another and how the components are affected by aging.
Paul said, “I can see my body aging. You know how you look in the mirror in the morning, and are occasionally startled by who you see? Where’d that old cat come from? But my mind? I don’t know for certain. I can’t be sure how it has aged. I think it has grown, it feels much bigger.”
Keith: “Huumph, does the mind age! I suppose it does. I like to think of it as maturing, but retaining the ability to be silly with both friends and family. I think my mind is something like a castle. There is a lot to it. I spend most of my time in the central section on the main floor. That is the part I am most familiar with. I go upstairs to the second floor fairly regularly. But there is an East Wing, a West Wing and a South Wing. I hadn’t been to the South Wing in 15 years. When I went there I was surprised by what I found. Memories I forgot to remember.”
Chapman: “Okay, I like that picture. But here’s what I want to get at. Then. Then there is the Spirit. That’s what I have been thinking about the last couple of days. I have an idea about what the spirit is.”
Keith: “Hmmm, tell me what you have.”
Chapman: “Okay. You are in Syracuse, and I am in Dallas. We are talking on the phone, I’m 78 and you’re 77, so there’s no denying, we’re old. But you don’t sound old. In fact, you don’t sound any different than you did when we were 25. We are even talking about some of the same abstract things we talked about then, as though there are questions we ask ourselves and meditate on most of our lives. That’s the spirit. It doesn’t really age, it exists outside of time.”
Keith: “Yeah that’s good. I like that. I think the spirit is made up of curiosity about life, and I think curiosity about life keeps us alive, I mean body, mind and spirit. I was just rereading a Tom Robbins novel, Jitterbug Perfume. God, he’s a crazy and profound guy. He’s so quick witted. I love how humor is mixed into everything. Anyway, he said the will to live cannot be overestimated as a stimulant to longevity. He goes so far as to claim that ninety percent of all deaths are suicides. People who lack curiosity about life, who are defeated, who find minimal joy in experience, are too willing, subconsciously to cooperate with—and attract—disease, accident, and violence.”
Chapman: “Yeah that fits in to how I think about living. And, just to keep my ending indefinite, I would like to make it to about 100. I wonder if I will still experience the spirit in the same way. Will I still think about of it as outside of time? Will it still have the same influence? Will we still know it best in our relationships?”