Photo by Amy Bonthorne on Unsplash

Okay, I asked permission, haven’t heard back, but this is so good I had to share it and I hope Vicki is cool with this.

The other day I got a great comment from a northern neighbor, or at least she is when I am in the USA, Medium writer

Vicki Abbott. There’s a lot of wisdom in this piece of writing, and for those who are in their last third of life and wondering well….. Vicki is well. And thriving. Her comment as written:

I’m 83 and very healthy, (if you don’t count the pacemaker and type 1 diabetes). I worked in the medical profession my whole life and saw how many medical problems could have been avoided IF ONLY. I decided that wasn’t going to be my fate. After I retired, I set about keeping myself healthy. I obsessively walk for an hour every morning, and over many years I‘ve only missed one day, and that was because of ice. When I was diagnosed wth type 1 diabetes at 60, I did everything in my power to keep my blood sugar numbers to as near normal as possible. Even so, I experienced a heart block and now have a pacemaker. BUT.,.. I’m energetic. I haven’t noticeably lost any brain power. I stopped driving 5 years ago due to two unexplained fainting spells, so it’s been in a new adventure, getting out in the world using public transportation. But during covid time, I’d just rather just stay in my neighborhood, anyway, a lovely green and leafy one, here in Portland.

Part of why I wanted to share her comment is that at 83 she is, as buddy Jay Geary and others are, as I am, experiencing law-comformable physical changes as we age. Some of us are very fit, but being very fit does not in any way, shape or form mean that we won’t get ill, or get cancer, or develop arthritis, or need surgery.

Being fit does mean, as Vicki demonstrates, that being mindful of our daily needs for movement and good food mean that when the shit does hit the fan, as it will for many if not most, those waters are far easier to navigate when we didn’t punch holes in the hold with crap habits.

This fall I face rotator cuff surgery, which is mean beyond mean, and it will take months of both pain and PT to recover. To do that I continue, as I can while traveling and when I return to Eugene, to slam the gym to ensure that said shoulder is in supremely good health upon being rolled into the surgical theater. The body LOVES being healthy, it LOVES being strong, and when you direct your full attention to those things it shrieks YES at you in your own inimitable way.

That does not, I repeat, does not mean that you will have a fitness instructor’s body. Some may, but at this age, that is likely a fine combination of genetic predisposition (about 30% ) and then a lifetime of consistent hard work.

If you and I take a few decades off for decadence, while we can indeed return to, regain, or finally get functionally fit or even very fit, it would be dishonest (and IS dishonest) for anyone to make the claim that you can get your waistline back. At least in many cases, not without serious surgery.

We love to equate youthful with slim and trim, an idea that is fast disappearing in our Western cultures. However that has nothing to do with fit, which Vicki is.

Fit is the solid foundation which allows a heart issue or a cancer diagnosis or a bad accident lay waste to a few shingles. It doesn’t bring the whole house down.

Covid brought the house down for so many because of widespread co-morbidities about which most of us have read. I hope against hope that you got the bloody message. When you and I take care of the house, we don’t depend on wobbly scaffolding. In the last few years I’ve taken some big damned hits to my house but I am still standing.

And running and riding and hiking and lifting and living a life out on the edge. I have plenty of nicks and bruises, teeth that live in a cup at night, blah blah blah. None of that keeps me from sailing, leave the safe docks far, far behind.

deposit photos

If you re-read Vicki’s comment again, here’s what leapt out at me:

I worked in the medical profession my whole life and saw how many medical problems could have been avoided IF ONLY. I decided that wasn’t going to be my fate. After I retired, I set about keeping myself healthy.

This is one reason why I wrote about the retired vascular surgeon in Eugene who now competes, at 66, as a bodybuilder. Folks who are in the medical field see what we do to ourselves when we don’t mind the ship. We gather barnacles, mold, and quietly rot in place in our safe slip.

Doctors and medical professionals know not to go to a hospital to die. They often die at home,which is a powerful choice, a less painful one. And before they get to that point, many are choosing a better road to that inevitable end.

A choice. All of life is a series of choices. Life happens to us, which is also inevitable, but how we react to and dance with those choices is up to us. To that, I just this moment got a lovely comment I want to share from another Medium reader of Crow’s Feet:

Yes! It is a choice. So often we just let life happen, till it doesn’t. Thank you for the reminder.

No. Thank YOU.

When writers like Vicki and others share their stories about Aging Vibrantly, we all win. That has nothing to do with being a fitness instructor with the perfect body until you die in mid-bicep curl and EVERYTHING to do with being able to weather the storms with as few shingles lost as possible (include weathering shingles, which is a whole other story) that is what turns my crank. Not cranky old folks full of complaints and anger about how their bodies failed them.

No. They didn’t. All too often we failed our bodies. Our bitterness infects not just our souls but the marrow of the very bones which hold us upright, facing the winds.

In one of my favorite-of-all-time movies Master and Commander, Captain “Lucky Jack” Aubrey (Russell Crowe) is addressing his officers and his close friend, the Doctor Stephen Maturin, after their man o’ war Surprise was indeed surprised by the superior French fighting ship the Acheron.

The good doctor, played by the most able Paul Bettany, is claiming that their ship Surprise, which took one hell of a beating, is old.

Their conversation:

Dr. M: By comparison, the Surprise

is a somewhat aged man-of-war.

- Am I not correct?

Lucky Jack: Would you call me an aged man of war?

The Surprise is not old.

No one would call her old.

She has a bluff bow, lovely lines.

She’s a fine sea boat, weatherly, stiff and fast.

Very fast, if she’s well-handled.

No, she’s not old.

She’s in her prime.

With thanks to Netflix for allowing me to download that beloved movie, I was able to revisit it while my molars were rattled out of my head over the African roads. There’s a lot in that movie to love, not the least of which is this point that just because we’ve been around for a while doesn’t mean we can’t, with love, care, repairs and hard work, sail around the Cape and take on life at her worst.

I have written elsewhere in a piece inspired by the inimitable Medium writer Vienna De Vega about how we must have been something else “in our prime.” Not only do I find that argument laughable, I head out, make wicked-ass mistakes, fall on my face, pick myself up, head out over the great African savannahs while managing my phone and camera to photograph cheetahs and capture the great elephants as they move like great ships through the wind-tossed grasses of a changing Africa.

I am bloody well in my prime right here and right now.

No one would call me old.

I have a bluff bow, lovely lines.

I’m a fine sea boat, weatherly, stiff and fast.

Very fast, if I’m well-handled.

So is Vicki. So can you be, if you don’t mind a few hard winds, a few broken masts, a few repair jobs on the bow, the occasional busted rudder. Happens to us all. But one thing is sure: the more we fill our sails with the winds, the better we get at managing the storms. And that really does mostly come with age, which is when we truly are in our prime.

Photo by Vladimir Soares on Unsplash