Maturing Nicely

Beginning another New Year, I notice that I think of time both circularly and linearly.  I only have to compare my current self with my childhood self to note that things have surely moved on. Yet devoted readers of Salt Spray and Aspens will recall that I am the proud possessor of a Grandfather clock.  Atypically for someone even of my generation let alone those who are younger, I enjoy wearing an analogue watch, even if I can’t always see the time!  Both clock and watch have round faces, and although it takes the hands two circuits to trace a day, they give me the sense of a continuous series of new beginnings, new dawns, new hopes, that I don’t feel when I consult my iPhone or ask Alexa for the time. Now we have our annual new beginning, and we live with the optimism that our resolutions will outlast the often incomprehensible refrains of “Auld Lan Syne”, the ticker tape, and the champagne corks. From one perspective I have a new circle to pursue dangling opportunistic carrots in front of my freckled nose. On the other hand, my nose (freckles, blotches and all), like the rest of me is older than it has ever been, a tad pudgier and misshapen.  And, I can’t help wondering at those around me who are also older than they ever have been.

We visited Chris’ doctor recently. Commenting on Chris’ recovery he noted that it was quite remarkable since he is “no spring chicken.“ When he added his belief that old age begins at sixty, I couldn’t help blurting “Poor you!” Maybe he sees a disproportionate number of sick and dying people since he didn’t crack a smile at my remark.

While we do have friends and family suffering with debilitating illnesses, we know many people from differing walks of life living into their nineties. My good friend Annie from Massachusetts passed away in 2023 at 101, and another embraces life at 98. A few years ago when these women heard we were planning to move away from New England, they determined to take us out for a farewell lunch. Springing in and out of our SUV was no barrier to their enthusiasm and, as we raised a glass to toast our friendship, they declared, “Don’t worry about us, we’re not getting old, just maturing nicely.”

As my mother is a sprightly 93, my father a less sprightly 95, and I have a great-grandmother who reached the same age, friends are starting to suggest that I eke out my money in case I too live a good long life.

Jean's Dad 2023

I did a little research and it turns out you can’t necessarily rely on the genes. They are responsible for about 20% of our potential longevity. The other 80% is linked to lifestyle and environment. Dan Buettner has studied areas in the world where there are unusual clusters of centenarians, they live in what he calls “Blue Zones.“ It seems that these folk do not consciously “do” anything, no diets, weight-lifting,  or supplements, they just live their lives, but in circumstances that are coincidentally conducive to long and mostly healthy lives. Buettner has identified nine factors that are common to these clusters. Many of these folk have little concept of retirement, they may do less or no paid labor, but they work in their gardens and vineyards providing wholesome food and drink to their extended families. Doing this, they stay active maintaining strength and flexibility, so they retain balance and hence reduce their risk of falling. The homegrown produce is served in family meals, where people have the leisure to linger and celebrate friends and family. These older gardeners and chefs retain a sense of purpose and of being valued, most sleep well at night. 

A friend’s granddaughter asked the perspicacious question, “How long are you going to live?”  And followed it up with, “How long do you want to live?”

I grew up far from any “Blue Zone” in the industrial north of England. Pollution was occasionally so bad that a milky fog rolled in, so dense that we were dismissed from school before it became too thick to penetrate and unsafe to be on our way home. On the other hand, we always had access to the countryside, my parents were known as “the mad Braggs, they have a car but they choose to walk,” and we had home-cooked family meals that featured heaps of vegetables. Clearly not a bad start to a long and, to date, healthy, life.

So how long will I live, how long do I want to live? For me, as I guess with many of us, it’s a question about the quality of life. In my own self-interest I’d like to live until there’s treatment or a cure for my vision problem, I’d like to live to see family thrive, to make a contribution, to see world events improving, all while perfecting my yoga handstand!

Jean Handstand 2023

My New Year’s wish is that all of you keep on “maturing nicely.”

End Notes

Reading

Listening

Smoke
Victoria Monet

Etude op 12 no 225 Chopin
Nicholas McCarthy, the one-handed pianist

Viewing

Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones

Poetry

One Night When You Were Just a Star

One night when you were just a star,
someone hung every hope, every wish, every dream,
they ever had from your limbs,
so if you ever feel inferior,
ever start to doubt your beauty or brilliance just remember:
you have constellations lining the cathedral walls of your chest,
a moon for a heart
and the sunlight pouring through your skin,
you are a symphony of stardust
and you were born to shine.

— Tyler Kent White

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