Andersen: You’re always young in Aspen
I just turned 65. I am a senior citizen. I am on Medicare. I ride the bus for free. To anyone younger than 40, I’m freakin’ old. But I don’t see it that way. I’m not on a walker. I’m still a player — of sorts.
My son, Tait, is in his early 20s. If I want to pace along with him on mountain adventures, the demands are high. The big powder day two Mondays ago was an example.
We were in line at the gondola by 8:20 a.m. and caught one of the first buckets to the top. We tele-skied our hearts out until the final bell. I was beyond tired, elated with endorphins and deep satisfaction. Yes! I can still do this!
I went to bed that night still skiing the Dumps in rhythmic memories. In my dreams I was punching through powder puffs among the aspen trees. I felt incredibly youthful that night but not so youthful the next morning. It hurt to walk down the stairs. I realized that I couldn’t do this two days in a row — like I used to just 10 years ago.
So I’m facing the inevitable physical limits of an aging body. A sobering book on that subject — “Being Mortal” — affirms what most of us oldsters know to be true. Getting old will entail certain infirmities, and I’d rather not think about them now.
This isn’t a complaint about age, just an acknowledgment of the realities. If the physical stuff were all I had going, I’d be worried. But there’s more, and I know that.
I accept the fact that one day I will have to give up all-day powder bashes with my son. But what of adventures of the intellect and spirit? I see no limits there. I picture myself a wizened old man exploring the labyrinths of philosophy like I used to explore those of the Grand Canyon and the Elk Range.
Like any muscle of the body, the intellect must be worked into shape in order to pursue internal adventures. I’m doing that now with a Great Books seminar at the Aspen Institute, where a group of us huddles over obscurities from thinkers like Kierkegaard, Kafka, Tocqueville and Ortega y Gasset.
Delving into ideas makes Aspen unique among mountain towns. Here is a place for adventures in the mountain wilderness and adventures of the mind. One is external, the other internal. Pursuing both kinds of adventure at once is one of the highest pleasures I know.
I can ski the mountains during the day and share deep readings and deep discussions that night. Within that body-mind discipline arises a synergy that is spiritually compelling, inspiring and invigorating — a fountain of youth that stretches me into new dimensions of body, mind and spirit.
I’m describing the “Aspen Idea,” a somewhat overused expression that nonetheless stands as high ground for aspirations toward excellence, toward a full and fruitful life that is anything but dull and boring.
The Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset described it when he spoke in Aspen at the 1949 Goethe Bicentennial: “These sessions of collective meditation, … renewed among the heights which bear the name Aspen, … lived under the double inspiration which is shed down upon us by the green smile of these hills and the severity of these frozen peaks.”
Aging in Aspen can be expansive and rewarding if one seeks reasonably measured adventure in the external, physical world and infinite explorations in the internal spiritual and intellectual realm. As one wanes, the other grows. Both are fueled with energetic ambitions for an enduring quality of life.
Keeping all aspects of this equation alive gives me something to look forward to — not as a passive retiree but as an active aging man. I plan to retire from nothing but to engage more fully with all the energy and vitality I can maintain.
Perhaps then, as my son extols me with his powder-skiing exploits, I won’t feel that stab of loss from what nature gives and what nature takes away. I’ll nurture memories of past glories, coupled with rigorous, challenging thoughts and the infinite fount of ideas that spur them.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays when he’s not lost in Plato’s “Republic.” He can be reached at email@example.com.
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