Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Planning for the Inevitable Decline

As I've developed my list of potential HarvilleQuarters, I've tried to include activities that span the gamut of physical fitness requirements, from the strenous (run a marathon) to the challenging (walk or bike every street in my town) to the sedentary (memorize a poem every day). Many ideas on the list are closer to the latter than the former, and there's a reason for that.

My mother, bless her heart, had dreams of traveling after Dad finally retired. He was a dairy farmer, so any family trips as we boys were growing up were rare and short. A three-day weekend was the absolute maximum. I heard Mom talk often about the traveling she was looking forward to after Dad finally hung up the milk pail (or, in his case, closed down the milking parlor) and sold the Guernseys.

Unfortunately, by the time Dad was ready to do that, Mom had developed some ambulatory problems that made it hard for her to get around. They took a few trips to visit my brothers and my family, but there were no extended vacations just for sight-seeing. After a while, even family trips became increasingly difficult and frustrating as they struggled with heavy wheelchairs, narrow airplane aisles, unisex restrooms, and all the other issues large and small that started to make the effort seem greater than it was worth.

Mom made a mistake that is probably very common - planning a retirement based on the physical capabilities she possessed at the time she was doing the planning. Although some of us may go directly from full-throated gusto to sudden demise (the swift fatal stroke somewhere on the Back 9), for most of us death will appear with no such drama. We will experience a gradual waning of our capacity for activities that require strong legs and stamina to propel us forward. Rather than ignoring that likelihood, let's plan on it.

Not only should we plan on it, we should look forward to it. Most of us will naturally put our planned HarvilleQuarters in sequence such that the more physically taxing appear earlier. This is clearly the smart thing to do. In so doing, we should ensure there are plenty of physically-easy activities farther along that we really and truly want to do. The more distant items on the list shouldn't be the least appealing, just those we can do without leaving the house or in shorter spurts.

As mobility and stamina diminish, we can focus on the really neat, playful, satisfying HarvilleQuarters we will be sinking our teeth into, rather than mourning the ones we can no longer manage. Personally, I'm anticipating the opportunities to memorize a poem a day, watch all the Oscar-winning movies, sharpen my piano playing, create crossword puzzles, and make mobiles, to name a few.

When I realize I can no longer participate in an archeological dig or bike every trail in Wisconsin, I hope I have the wisdom and grace to say, "Great! Now I can finally get around to baking a different bread every day and writing a children's book! It's about time!"

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