Attaining the age of seventy is a once-in-a-lifetime milestone, deserving the revelation of (hopefully) wise realizations not possible for the young of limited age and experience. The fact is, that I don’t feel so old, though it’s questionable whether seventy still qualifies as “middle age.” Middle of what? It would clearly be middle aged if we lived to the age of one hundred forty.
Perhaps the prime challenge of life is to overcome the resistance of gravity and the passage of time. One does this by keeping moving. Moving implies that we must change. We can’t expect to stay the same. If we keep moving, we’ll hopefully encounter new things to learn, new ideas, new people, new experiences, new opportunities.
Many people my age have been retired for years. “Retirement” is their goal. Hopefully, retirement doesn’t mean never encountering the list of stimulating possibilities listed above. I never want to retire from my music. I’ve even considered the possibility that if I couldn’t play my instruments any more, I’d still be able to compose…to create new music in my mind.
On my seventieth birthday, September 8th, 2018, I spent the day at a conference in Sacramento, California, in the presence of several hundred people dealing with cancer. This conference was presented by Healing Journeys, a cancer-support organization founded by Jan Adrian, who was first diagnosed with cancer in 1989. Jan has survived many bouts with cancer for twenty-nine years! The title of the conference was: Cancer as a Turning Point: From Surviving to Thriving.
Of the several hundred people at the conference, all of them were either suffering from cancer themselves, supporting or taking care of a friend, relative, or loved one who has cancer, or had lost someone close to them to cancer. Susan and I lost our dear twenty-six-year-old nephew Ari Mazer two years ago. I lost my best friend from high school, Norman Evans, to cancer before he reached age fifty. So many people like Ari and Norman were robbed of life. If I had died at age twenty-six or before the age of fifty, I would not have accomplished nearly as much as I have after age fifty. In fact, my sixties have probably been the most productive decade of my life. Can I make my seventies even better?
The unavoidable fact is that we’re all going to die. People fighting cancer have received an advanced warning that the rest of us have not yet received. The people with cancer are extremely alive, living each day to the fullest, mindful that their days (actually, all our days) are numbered. As a conference audience, this group was super receptive and enthusiastic. Every speaker, as well as our music performance, received a standing ovation. There was one exception, a lawyer who did not receive a standing ovation. He had tried to live a rigorously healthy life, experimenting with different fad diets, as well as maintaining a vigorous exercise routine. He got cancer anyway…prostate cancer. The later part of his talk was spent recounting his opinions of the different medications he was taking. No standing ovation for that!
The messages of all the other speakers, each of whom recounted their encounters with cancer, were hopeful. They said that survival was not assured by chemo-therapy, radiation, or surgeries. There are no guarantees with traditional treatments. Rather, survival includes one’s attitude, beliefs, support from loved ones, hope, and purpose in life. How you feel affects how you heal!
Remember Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap? Dr. Bronner was a pure-product advocate, whose philosophical statement was printed on his soap package: “Health is the only true wealth.” Steve Job’s billions couldn’t save him from his cancer. While we may suspect that pollutants in our air and food result in the ingestion of chemicals that cause cancer, the direct cause-effect relationship between pollution and cancer is hard to demonstrate. There is no definitive way to predict who will get cancer and who won’t. It’s not the patient’s fault that they get sick.
I became more mindful on my 70th birthday. At this point of my life, compared to the people at the conference last week, I have no problems. What I might have regarded as my personal problems the day before the conference were pushed to the background. Everyone has challenges, but challenges don’t necessarily lead to problems. Challenges are good. They offer opportunities to change, to learn, to grow, to improve, to evolve, to strive, to achieve something worthwhile. I embrace these ideals as my life philosophy, and I will follow them for as long as I have the energy and mindfulness to stay on the path.