Uncle Dick took up bicycling at the age of 84. He rode as a kid, but that was long before bikes had gears and hand brakes. One fine summer day several years ago, Uncle Dick went out, bought a bike and commenced to familiarize himself with gears, brakes, bike seats and other things that have been added to bicycles over the past 70 years.
He began taking little rides in his driveway and around the neighborhood testing his balance, analyzing his performance and making adjustments. He took a few spills, fortunately easy ones with no serious injuries. And then one day, he took his bike to the trail and went on a proper ride, only a mile or so, but a proper ride. Uncle Dick had worked up to 10 mile rides three times a week. He took a 16 mile ride with us, passing a few slower riders along the way.
At the time Uncle Dick's day job involved feeding and caring for my Aunt Faith who was in a nursing home. He visited twice a day to make sure his wife was properly fed and cared for, and to cheer up other residents. It was easy to tell when Uncle Dick was visiting the nursing home; his car is the one with the bike on back.
Then there are the twins in their 80s. My mom and her identical twin sister…the farm twin and the town twin. My mom, the town twin, is continuously learning new things on her computer. She had an iPhone and knew how to use it before most of her grandkids. She hangs out with friends and family on Facebook and can text with the best of them. Spring, summer and fall find her tending our flower gardens and smoozing it up at the Farmer's Market. In the winter, she visits the city library a lot and rehearses for the Christmas play at church.
And then there is my Aunt Ina, the farm twin, who still lives on her century farm. She drives her huge four-wheel drive truck over the farm at least once a day, checking on cattle, fences and getting stuck in the occasional ditch just for fun. The twins love a good card game and will even let you win now and again, just to keep you coming back.
I have been taking lessons from these and other amazing elders for years. And while they may require a little more maintenance and downtime these days, they live each day with a kind of gusto and gutsiness. They may have physical limitations, but they are not limited by them.
While these folks personally jazz me, I have noticed that the world is full of aging citizens who have become very good at living. They set a great example for those of us who, while younger in years, are still striving. They show us how to approach life with a kind of playfulness, and calmness.
It's easy to fixate on "how old we are," and make that a problem of some kind. We can find plenty of people to commensurate with us. The years are easy to measure, and so we measure them.
Not so easy to measure is our energy. We don’t hear many conversations about how energetic we feel. We talk ourselves into being tired or overwhelmed, and believe it. We may just be missing a huge source of renewable energy, our own. We must begin to focus on metrics other than our age. We are alive and still full of possibility. But we must find ways to renew ourselves if we are to experience our best day, our best week and our best selves.