I’ve been living an older life for 11–16 years depending on where you think “older” begins. I am 76. My dearest friend and mentor, still vital and glamorous at 95, would ask me what I thought vitality looked like for us and our contemporaries, and what it would look like when we were not as vital. For her, that meant no longer being able to hike for four days straight in Yosemite. For me it has meant a slow diminishment in energy, and easier yoga classes. Her last question to me (she died a few years ago at 96) was, what does vitality mean when we are no longer vital?

The following are my answers:

    1. Build both mental and emotional flexibility
      I don’t expect the same things of myself at 76 as I did when I was 66. Then I was still teaching full-time. Now I teach part-time and am learning to draw. I try to stay open to what’s possible and new, without requiring myself to be good at whatever it is right away. I’m more flexible when a friend forgets that it is our walking day, and happy to explore a new trail by myself.
    2. Get help if you can
      Since we have been sheltered in place during the spring and early summer of 2020, the couple who cleans my house have also been sheltered. I know I am privileged to have this service and I can’t tell you how long it has been since I have cleaned my own house. They returned to work this week. I am so grateful for their help. Get whatever help you can afford — accountants, physical therapists, tarot card readers. If you can’t afford help, see if you can barter a service you can provide for their service.
    3. Nurture a sense of humor
      I’m not talking about telling good jokes, although if you do, more power to you. I’m talking about noticing what’s funny about life. There is always something — always. Whether it is finding that you have dyed all of your partner’s white underpants pink, or put salt in the muffins instead of sugar, find the funny in it. Neuroscientists tell us a sense of humor helps us stay healthy longer.
    4. Keep doing the things that bring joy to you
      I wrote that I’m learning to draw. Who knew that I could sit at my dining room table for hours drawing the covert feathers on a heron. I’m completely transported by this activity. Find what transports you and do it. Sing in your community chorus, watch Old Jewish Comedians on You Tube, learn to Zoom with your family and friends.
    5. Be patient with yourself and others
      I find my worst days coincide with my greatest impatience. I drop an egg on the floor and swear at myself, at how clumsy I am. I forget to close the garage door and marvel in a shaming way that all of my athletic gear has not been stolen. On those days when I can’t or won’t give myself a break, or don’t give my daughter and my best friend one too, I’m mostly miserable. Be kind. Be compassionate. Forgive imperfections, yours and others.
    6. Face Reality
      I can’t sit cross-legged on the floor any more. It just ain’t happening. My balance isn’t that great and I have to hold on to the hand rail by my front steps I told my husband I didn’t want. It’s harder to lose the 10 pounds I put on and take off every few years or so. That’s reality. I’m still able to write good sentences, sing a mean Amazing Grace, and love my children and grandchildren. That’s my reality. What’s yours?