The Epic Life: Or, Are You Aging Gracefully?
The phrase “aging gracefully” implies that there is a way to age disgracefully. If you’ll pardon my badly-disguised chuckle, I’m so happy to be aging in the first place, given our times, that the idea that there is a way to mess this up is frankly hilarious.
We live in a time when much of what we know, or thought we knew, is being upended. To some, this is terrifying.
To others, it’s an extraordinary chance to redirect, refocus our lives, even late in life.
Neither is right nor wrong; it’s how we’re wired.
If I may.
This morning I started an article on living an epic life. The results annoyed me, and I dumped the piece. Here’s why.
First, what constitutes “epic” any more could be simply making it to the store and back. For some, that is a perilous outing. It depends, doesn’t it?
For others, it means getting on a plane for Mongolia again (that would be my epic).
Epic Is Overrated
Epic, kindly, is tired. It’s done. The word is so overused. And if you’re like me, facing down 70, and having had quite enough of the Instagram comparison-culture… just, please.
Living an epic life has become overrated. The idea of epic was once along the lines of Beowulf, or perhaps Star Wars, or more recently, Lord of the Rings.
Somehow, we’ve gotten to the point where if you and I aren’t supergeezers, aging Olympic athletes, we’re not enough. Our lives have to be epic to be worthwhile.
As someone who does what others may well consider pretty epic things, I beg to differ.
My life is righteously boring most days. While every so often, assuming planes fly again, I head to distant lands to do adventurous and athletic things, most of the time I am supremely average. I exercise, eat well, recover from self-inflicted injuries.
Like this fractured pinky toe, which, had I been just a wee bit more mindful in the middle of the night, I might have avoided smashing against a piece of furniture. Now, more than two months later, I am still limping around in a boot.
Average. Everyday. Nothing to look at here.
Yet, with any luck, sometime next year I’ll be riding reindeer in Mongolia.
Epic? Nope. It’s just what I like to do.
What you like to do is likely very different. And to me, that may look “epic.”
How We Age Is a Unique Journey
How you choose to live out your later years may mean tons of time with grandkids – allowing for all appropriate safety measures – and all the joy and delight that brings. You may start a hobby farm with a new hubby. You may launch a brand-new online business.
If you’re anything like I am, which means I’m about as graceful as a dyslexic camel (with apologies to my even-toed ungulates) when it comes to athletics, I like physical pursuits. Nothing graceful about me at all.
However, I love horse riding, kayaking, climbing, and making an utter fool of myself trying out new sports. For me, nothing disgraceful about aging un-gracefully. My best comedy writing comes of such endeavors.
Your version may well be consuming novels on a slice of perfect beach on Sanibel Island. Depending on who you are, just being able to sit quietly on a beach in the first place may have taken a few acts of God.
You and I cannot know. Which is why Instagram comparison culture is so odious, at least to me. The carefully-curated and presented images of folks living what appear to be far happier and better lives? Nonsense.
The implicit and explicit pressure to live an epic existence is based on the unfounded notion that who and what you and I are right here, right now, can’t possibly be enough.
Again, I beg to differ.
Redefining an Epic Life
It’s not just that by the time we get to 60, we’ve crammed an awful lot of living into our lives. Losses and laughter and experiences which have defined us, lined us, and given us gravitas.
It’s also that by this time, we don’t owe no explanations to nobody, if you will pardon my grammar.
The only thing worth comparing at this point, is today vs. yesterday. Last year vs. this year. Time has taught us that things shift and move, and with patience, most things sort themselves out.
In many ways, the way I see the exquisite joy of being in my late 60s, the perspectives you and I have gained, the ability to be quiet and calm while the world surges and heaves around is, is pretty damned epic in and of itself.
Only time and experience are the true teachers of this kind of life. Knowing how and when to turn off the news feed, find a quiet corner, curl the cat into our lap, and bury ourselves in that fat book.
Knowing that pulling out the makings of sourdough and committing an afternoon to creating the perfect loaf as opposed to listening to a perfect oaf spout political nonsense is what comes of learning what’s important.
What’s epic is perspective. What’s epic is far less about hurling ourselves out of airplanes, which I still like to do, but being able to be that oasis of calm in the lives of others who haven’t lived as long as we have.
The ability to choose where we put our attention comes of living long enough to learn how. What’s epic, for me, is having intense gratitude for life, the life we are given, the ability to enjoy it in our unique way.
That’s aging gracefully.
What does living an epic life look like to you? How do you stay free of comparison culture? What have you learned about aging gracefully on your terms? Please share so we can all benefit from your insight!