Lessons from a leaf pile

I like to say that we get older, but we don’t have to get old. This past weekend made me more aware of getting older. And I did not like it!

I have always had a “can-do” attitude. Not in the sense that I felt I could climb Mt. Everest or take on other great physical challenges. Those were never my strong suits, as balance was somewhat of an issue for me. Ice skating, roller skating, water skiing, not things I was able to master. But I tried … and continued to fall. We all have to accept where our strengths lie. I took to books, to math, to speaking in public, to delivering training. That does not mean I avoided physical challenges. I loved to hike. When I lived in Asheville, we probably went hiking every weekend and some of the hikes were fairly challenging. I was in my 30’s. I was up to the challenge.

The problem is that at 68, I still feel like I am up to the challenge and then my body tells me I am not. This is a new development for me and one that I am dealing with. Let me tell you what happened.

I was with my grandchildren this past weekend for Thanksgiving. They had created a huge pile of leaves that they were jumping into and having a great time. I was watching the laughter and fun and believing that I was still in my 30’s, decided I wanted to join them. With a running leap, I jumped into the pile of leaves. I loved the sound the leaves made as I landed. I love the smell of fallen leaves. Then I realized, I could not get up. I rolled over and the pile was so deep, I could not get myself to my feet. Had to call one of the grands over to help me up.

In my defense, I was wearing boots with heels, not spiked heels, but heels none the less. Still, it was a blow to my ego and my sense of self that I could not get up. Where did this 68-year-old body come from? What happened to the 30-something person I was?

Another example, another embarrassing moment, although no one was here to see it. I was doing laundry and saw some dust that had made its way between the dryer and the wall. Crouching down, I reached in to remove the dust and suddenly I found myself losing my balance and falling backward. Remember I mentioned that balance had never been my strong suit. Well, it is even less of my strong suit now.

This awareness that I am getting older is disconcerting. I have always been blessed with looking young for my age. I have mostly tried to eat right, take supplements, and exercise on and off over the years. And still, I am getting older. Better than the alternative, right?

Hey, Boomer is a show to encourage people over 50 to stay engaged, to make a difference and to enhance our purpose as we age. The truth is that we can do this, and we will do it differently than we did in our 30’s.

There are so many sayings that come to mind that apply to these thoughts.

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” I tell myself this when sciatica rears its ugly head.

“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”

“Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”

Here is one I love, from David Bowie. “Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.”

image from seniorplanet.org

Think about that. Aging is an opportunity to become the person you should have been or the person you want to be. It is an opportunity to open your mind to new ideas and new ways of thinking. Maybe that is why our bodies force us to slow down and question what is possible. We get to accept ourselves for who we are inside, not for what we can do or how we look. This acceptance also spills over to our friends and loved ones.

Maybe next time I see a pile of leaves, I will walk in it to hear the crunch of the leaves rather than jump into it. I will be more careful about balance. I will try to laugh at myself more and love that I am growing older and perhaps wiser and more self-aware.

And I am becoming the person I want to be.

5 thoughts on “Lessons from a leaf pile

  1. Yes, good time to reflect and make choices that continue to offer a more satisfying life, despite sciartca and other aches. Time to think and yes, find new ways, new abilities that add satisfaction to your life—and to those who love you.

  2. Wendy, you should have rolled over and crawled to the nearest exit… I have had to do that on numerous occasions…actually reminds me of my childhood, jumping off a stone wall into a massive pile of maple leaves and burrowing our way through the entire pile. Balance is a huge issue for almost all older people but we don’t have to give up…there are a lot of exercises that improve balance and they aren’t hard just require perseverance and isn’t that one of the strengths we have as we age? It sure beats the falling and the bruises and aches as a result. I do a few each day and when they become easy add another one. Sciatica has been a close friend of mind for years and there are stretches that relieve it. Walking also works for me. At 71 yo, I am not ready to give up leaf piles and fun with grandkids so I am going to pay attention to the body when it is weak in an area and do something about it. I don’t plan on running a marathon but I bet I can do it in my own way and still enjoy it!

    1. Judy, I love your comment. Sciatica is a pain and I am struggling with it now. I am going to the gym and walking on the treadmill, doing some of the stretches I learned in Physical Therapy, and it will resolve in time. At least it always has.
      As you say, perseverance is a trait of us “elders” and I am not giving up on leaf piles and grandkids and living my life. You demonstrated your perseverance in your bike riding challenge this spring. Thank you for your inspiration.

  3. I realized awhile back that I had trouble getting up off the floor, and thought I have to do something about this. I learned yoga and saw that yoga helped me stretch parts of body that exercise just does not do. So i wish i can say that I did it daily but not there yet. I will take out the mat about once a month or when I see I need it. Too, I learned a few balance exercises too like when waiting in line, hold one leg up bent at the knee- stretching arms out long for steadiness. Starting out, have something like a chair or wall to grab if you get off balance. Standing on tip of toes and down is another. Hope that helps. I lose my balance more too. It is disconcerting as you said, and acceptance is needed for sure and we can work on that and not overdo it when we know our limitations. We can still have lots of fun.

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