Frank Phillips Library Columns

The Summer of 72 by Frank Phillips

by Frank PhillipsHey, isn’t that 30 years too many if you’re recalling one of the classic coming of age movies of all time? It would be, but this title is referring to something more like the coming of aging. You see this was the summer of my 72nd year and coincidentally, the summer that I first really noticed a lessening in my physical ability to work hard for long stretches, especially in the heat of the day. We are privileged to own our home in Avon Park and one of my passions has always been outside work. My first concession on moving here was hiring someone to mow the lawn. This was motivated by two facts. One was that I was told that Florida grass requires special mowers because it enjoys the consistency and strength of 24 gauge wire and second because I was working full time and during the summer months (all but the year’s last and the first) the grass grows about an inch a day. Reluctantly I conceded, never really happy with the way my lawn looks, but happy for the extra free time if not for spending the cost of a good bottle of single malt on a monthly basis. With that chore fostered to another family, my focus has become the care and feeding and the digging and weeding for the rest of our grounds. We inherited a variety of already planted and sort of blooming stuff, some of which was fed, trimmed and kept, while other less homogeneous specimens are composting as we speak. A few years back I took great pride in my ability to work outside at a pace not much declined from my early years of “work til you drop.” Even though the process has been akin to the gradual erosion of a shoreline, there comes a point when one has to admit that they are truly slowing down in what they can physically accomplish, and this was the summer of 72. I need to take more breaks now, hydrate more frequently and when I think I can push and do just a little bit more, I quit. This condition has made me think about and better understand my Dad. He lived to 93, worked hard all his life on and off the job, and passionately cared for his family. As my years pile up, my respect for him has grown. Not long ago, I was thinking, what was my Dad like when he was 72? Did he get as tired as I do, was his strength weakening too, was he as frustrated at his growing limitations as I am? As he grew older and his arthritis and Parkinson’s grew worse and more debilitating I remember his life’s outlook became more negative. He didn’t enjoy the things he did all his life because he couldn’t do them anymore. I remember how hard it was to listen to and to try and encourage this man who I simultaneously loved, feared and respected, seemingly give up on his life and almost embrace his mortality as a blessing of relief. When the time came to relocate Dad and Mom to an Assisted Living facility, I remember his difficult period of adjustment until he was able to settle into a new daily routine. But he did, and I like to think that he was as comfortable and content as he could be under the circumstances for the rest of his days.

I have concluded that the old adage “you’re as old (or young) as you feel” is a great platform on which to base your personal philosophy for your own aging process. Sure we’ll slow down, but we won’t stop. Sure we’ll do less, but we will still do! Sure, I’m slower but I am moving. It’s as if someone exchanged your 5 gallon bucket for a 3 gallon bucket. You can still carry water, not as much, but much more than nothing. There certainly are a host of mitigating physical factors that can limit us as we age. Some illnesses and painful conditions can render us almost stationary and we might feel we have nothing to contribute to anyone’s life, even our own. The wisdom of your years, the memories you can share, and the smile on your face are unique to you and a special gift for others, please try to share it!

If you enter the word “aging” into the Heartland Library Cooperative search function on our website you will get 628 selections (as of this writing). They cover a full range of information embracing the physical, psychological, practical, medical and humorous sides of aging. If you find yourself in the summer of XX, one or more of these items may give you the boost and direction that will help clear your path going forward as they have for me.

So rather than being overtly focused on our age and allowing it to define us, let’s make an effort to think of our identity first, and our age second, asking ourselves, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”