Judson Haims: How do you live as you age?
In many ways, I am honored and grateful to have the opportunity to manage the Visiting Angels office here in our mountain communities. While there are many other Visiting Angels office in the state, and country at large, this office is quite unique. How so, you ask?
The community in which we live has a cohort of people living a more independent and active lifestyle well in to their 80s, 90s and even 100s than other parts of our state and country. It has been my experience that while people of any age may encounter health and physical challenges, the elders living within our mountain communities share commonalities — they live with purpose, and they are young at heart.
When I moved to the community almost 31 years ago, the community demographics were rather different from what they are now. In 1990, Eagle County had about 9,200 people between 30 and 50 years of age. With under 700 people over the age of 65. It was a community of predominately the young. Today, the mix of ages is far less polar. According to the state demographer’s office, the county now has about 18,000 people between 30 and 50 years of age and just over 7,000 over the age of 65.
Aging can be viewed via two optics — a curse and a blessing.
There are many reasons for the shift in balance of ages. However, the one I find may best explain it is our offering(s) of outdoor activities. The aging population that has chosen to call our mountain town(s) home have chosen not to “retire” in the traditional sense of the word. While they have earned the right to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor, they are not doing so on a Florida golf course and having 5 o’clock dinners for blue-plate specials.
Rather, many of this aging cohort have chosen to increase their longevity by filling their days with purpose, meaning and giving back. While many are also eating well and exercising to keep their bodies well maintained, it’s their commitment to build upon the life they have created through their personal journey that provides unmeasurable power and inner fortitude to overcome formidable challenges.
Throughout my life and, specifically over the past 13 years of managing Visiting Angels, I have found that the more a person’s life is infused with daily meaning and purposeful activity, the better quality of life is lived. For these people, even when the body can no longer do what it once was able to do, they remain positive, happy and exude a comfort and wisdom that I find admirable — even enviable.
I am not a very pious person. However, I know enough about religion(s) to know that they value “elders” as leaders, view them as a repository of knowledge and that they should be treated with respect and held in high esteem. Our elders have gained much wisdom and life experience during their days on this earth. Sharing such knowledge and experiences can occur regardless of physical limitations while providing a great sense of self-value. One does not have to be young and physically able to be valued, appreciated or even create a movement and inspire others.
In a recent conversation with a local pastor, I asked, “How can our community and, society at large, remind our aging population that although they may be older, and in some cases less mobile, they are still respected, needed and have value?” Without a skip, he responded, “We have value because we live.” This statement led to a much deeper conversation where he elucidated the parallels between purpose, value and aging.
I asked the same question to a local rabbi. The rabbi reminded me that Moses was not a young man when he led the Israelites out of Egypt and gave birth to the Jewish nation. The rabbi also discussed with me Jewish teachings that base the value and meaning of old age on the contributions made to society. I must say, I was very intrigued with his narrative that if those who are aging have nothing to occupy their time and energies, there becomes a breakdown in society and hastening in one’s mortality.
You don’t have to be a person of faith to appreciate the fact that waking up to find meaning in the day and having purpose leads to a more enriched life. So, just because you may find that your many years on this rock may have left you with less physical ability, purpose and meaning are always present and within grasp.
If you are interested in this subject matter and like to read, consider these books: “Who do You Want to be When You Grow Old” or “Life Reimagined” by Richard J. Leider. Also, Simon Sinek has a great book titled “Find Your Why.”
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and available to answer questions. His contact information is VisitingAngels.com/comtns and 970-328-5526.