A therapist friend of mine is surveying men and women in their eighties, curious about what it is that encourages some to continue living active, productive lives while others shrink into the dried sponge stage. He describes his research as “searching for the spark.”
He flatters me by citing my efforts to stay vital and relevant. Since I often feel more like a lump of burned out charcoal in the ashes of a Weber Grill rather than the spark that lights the fire, I want to answer the survey for myself. What keeps me going, revved up, refusing to give up.
I’m fast to come up with the essential answer: have a purpose for sticking around. But that’s just the title to the essay, superficial without the text that explores the complexities of living up to the objective.
For the precious few, the Mother Teresa saints, the Don Quixote illusionists, the rare man or women touched with genius, the purpose for hanging on is lofty: assistance for the poor; literacy for rural families; ending bigotry; peace in our time.
For some, the reason for getting out of bed is to make a tee time or cross off an item on the bucket list. Not exactly a higher purpose and invariably short term, as even the most insufferable narcissist ultimately learns that pate´ everyday quickly turns into chopped liver.
For most of us, the validating purpose blossoms when we dedicate ourselves to an undertaking that gives us meaning in the everyday flow of life.
Simple enough, but when the everyday flow of life is comprised of pain in the hips, trouble remembering where you left your reading glasses and adult children still behaving like squabbling kids in a kindergarten sandbox, negativity seeps into the mindset. We begin to feel isolated from a society that is indifferent to us. We become narrow minded. Our ego operates with a tit for tat mentality, putting a sticker price on our good deeds.
The “spark” comes with the realization that it is not about getting something back, it is about service to others, giving selflessly, with the reward coming from personal satisfaction rather than applause for a performance.
The spark comes from the excitement of living full tilt despite the aches and the pain; from un-tethering our idealized versions of the past and living in the present ‘as is;’ from accepting the presence of a higher power as a spiritual force, as in having an ally with potent dynamism.
Accepting the presence of a higher power - what a relief it is for me to give up the idea that I am in control (cut away to God laughing). It frees me to put the wisdom I’ve accumulated to work; it gives me time to volunteer for worthy causes; to offer unconditional love without judgment; to be a mentor (my granddaughter and I at the art institute… can anything be better than that?).
I shout this truism as often as possible, ‘Senior Citizen’ does not have to be a synonym for old person! Being old is about chronology; being senior is about attitude. When we start making excuses for not leaving our comfort zone, that’s when we become old.
Apologies for making it sound easy. It’s not. But without what my therapist friend labels “the spark,” life becomes bleak. It does not have to be that way. We’re getting older, but we’re not dead yet!
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