10 June 2011

Flattening the Curve

When I was young, I would watch my parents (I had four; divorced and remarried), and my grandparents.  It was like I was watching two different species, the difference was so substantial.  My maternal grandmother was dead of a tobacco-fueled heart-attack, and my Grandpa was well along into a long-term dementia.

My paternal grandmother stayed with my Mom after her son had left us, and raised me and my sister.  I just assumed this was normal at the time, but that grandmother had been abandoned by her husband, and knew what that was like.  She also didn't like hearing that one housekeeper had drugged me with Laudanum to keep me from disturbing her day, and the replacement had beaten me senseless with wooden hangers.  My Mom figured that one out when she found most of her hangers broken in a trash can.  Grandma Wynn stayed with us for seven years and raised me, taught me my ethical principles, and my work-ethic.  She seemed quite a bit different than other older folks I knew as a child... she had wrinkled skin, but boundless energy and wit.  She spent all her time helping and taking care of others.

But to the story at hand: Why were my grandparents so different from each other, and so much more different  than my parents?  As a young adult I picked up on the idea du jour that normal human beings "peaked" at around 25 - 30 years old, and it was all a long, slow downhill from there.  Fall apart slowly and then die.  A humped curve: like the Pike's Peak Marathon, the second half was all downhill.  Sheesh.

I became a Mormon at age 21 and began to notice right away that older Mormons didn't seem to follow that pattern.  It was apparently the norm for Mormon Church Presidents to be hale, articulate, and vigorously active well into their 90's.  They traveled all over the world, directed a complex organization... and seemed to be inexorably happy.

I learned some principles which I have shared with each of my kids: keep active, eat right, avoid tobacco and alcohol and a couple of other obvious vices - and that humped curve flattens out.  Too late (for my neck, face, and forearms, anyway) I also added onto their lesson-list to avoid excessive Sun exposure.  I'm still glad I'm a geophysicist/geologist.

I won't belabor you with the details of what "active" or "eat right" mean - fully a quarter of any modern magazine stand dwells on this in exquisite detail.  There are two more things that I would add to this list, however.
1. To be happy, you will have to stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about how you can help others.  My former Kaiser physician told me that she worked a year or two at a time so she could serve for a year in a free clinic for the homeless.  "I need my community service 'fix'" as she put it.
2. You will also have to get yourself to a place where you are comfortable with being a person doing the right thing: conformable with your Manufacturer's guidelines, so to speak.  No sane person would pour gasoline into their car's oil crankcase, for instance, but I've watched human beings do the equivalent thing all the time - and wonder how they got to look so beaten up.  The old fashion way of saying this is "avoid sin."

Instead of a "humped" curve, then, you will reach a peak - and stay there for many decades. It really IS possible to "flatten the curve".  I'm quite a bit happier at age 65 than I was at age 50... and for my birthday I biked up to the top of a neighboring hill that you cannot climb even in 1st gear on any sit-down bike. You must "jump the stirrups" - jump and power down on each peddle all the way to the top of the hill. It's fantastically aerobic, and I just did that particular route at the same average speed - about 19 kph - as I did it 9 years ago. I will test for my 5th degree black belt this coming August. My skin and white hair say one thing, but Louise says my energy and joie de vivre convey something entirely different.

It's fun to be on a flat curve. I just don't want to hang around here forever, though, and my faith makes a huge difference in how I view both my purpose in life and my inevitable departure.

But not for another 25 years, at least.  There's too much fun stuff yet to do.


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