Life is Long Enough

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The other day I overheard a comment in someone else’s conversation. I wasn’t really eavesdropping because I don’t remember what the people were talking about. But out of the surrounding air I heard a man say, “Life is too short.” Without thinking, I turned to him and said, “Life is long enough.” I wasn’t really sure what I meant when I said that. It just came out in a spontaneous, unthinking way. Then the man said that he still had so much to do and so many books to read. I don’t remember my response, but I hope I said something like, “That’s great.”

As I meandered back to my place, I tried to sort out what I was in my mind when I said that life was “long enough.” That idea, perhaps, comes from deep within my spirit, which may be as much or even more attuned to the creation of patterns over many decades than my real-time awareness as I go about my routines.

I have activities each day and, if I wanted to, I could keep a list with the number of hours or minutes it takes for each item. However, it would be a waste of fleeting time to develop an inventory and, unless I did it every day, it would only represent one moment in my life’s history. Still, what I accomplish does not seem to be a series of random acts, but let’s see.

Each day I get up, have breakfast, exercise (as much as possible) to keep my body running adequately and then set about doing things.

Twice a week I take care of grandkids for some portion of a day. I started about eleven years ago at one day a week with the birth of my first grandchild. With each additional baby I added time. This homey activity gives my kids a little respite in their incredibly busy schedules, provides a lovely, regular opportunity for me to grow my relationships with my grandkids, and lets them know that they have a grandmother who is there for them and loves them, always. We are all part of a shared existence.

I go to meetings that mostly have to do with the responsibility I have taken on to contribute in some way to the place where I live and to benefit older people. These meetings revolve around key issues for all of us elders like where we live, how we get around, and how we stay connected and engaged. This work doesn’t involve only meetings, but crafting and responding to e-mails, developing agendas, and putting together minutes, reports, and action plans.

In addition to being involved with family and community, I work to stay connected to precious friends and relatives some of whom I’ve known for a long time and others I just recently met. All of them have great significance for me. This effort lets me know I still have the capacity to continually maintain and develop friendships.

Almost every day I write something, think about writing something, or investigate a topic. Mostly I talk about what it is like to get older, although I do sometimes construct articles about other things. No matter what I compose I find it to be enormously satisfying. It lets me know that I can still conjure up and capture ideas. I am grateful that my mind is capable of creating and learning.

There really are patterns here as I look at what I do: keep my body healthy; coexist meaningfully with family and friends; contribute to my community; and challenge my mind to be active and creative. Perhaps these are my “core values?” I see a bit of a chicken and egg conundrum. Do I just do things that happen to form a pattern of values or did I have these principles, and then build activities around them? I suspect it was a little of both and, in reality, it doesn’t matter which came first. Whatever happened, it was over a long time-span. What does matter is how this relates to my life being “long enough.”

I now realize that a life that is “long enough” has less to do with the actual tasks I complete in order to check them off a to-do list and more about whether I have worked toward achieving my own core principles. By thinking about it in this way, I am not regretful about what I didn’t do, but content that at any given moment I can identify what I have done so far to work on my underlying, over-arching values. If I should die tomorrow (which would be unfortunate) I will have done so knowing that I may not have completed the next day’s task, but that I have continually worked on those things that are profoundly embedded in me. As result, I will have left an important legacy to those who may remember me for a few all-embracing achievements whether or not I got around to doing everything I had hoped to do.

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About Marian

Marian Leah Knapp, Ph.D., wants to start a new conversation about “aging with intent.” Much of what is written about elders is from the point of view of physicians, psychiatrists, gerontologists, and adult children. In her roles as author, columnist, speaker and elder activist, Marian is reporting from the front lines.
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