The Clock is Ticking for All of Us

Monday, November 10, 2036.

That’s the day I’m expected to die according to DeathClock, billed as “the Internet’s friendly reminder that life is slipping away.”

While I don’t believe my death will occur on that particular day and do hope I’ll live quite a bit longer than age 79, I find myself thinking both about the quantity and quality of the years I have left, no doubt prompted by the fact that I will turn 65 in a month.  

On the short end of my projected lifeline, I think of my parents, both of whom died at age 70, my dad after a year-long battle with lung cancer (no surprise as he smoked for 50+ years) and my mom in an instant from a heart attack linked to Vioxx, the drug she was taking to help manage her arthritis (a drug reported to triple the risk of heart attack). If I die at their age, I have five years left.

On the other hand, if I live as long as my maternal grandmother and my paternal grandfather, I have 25 years left.

Either way, I hope to stay mentally, physically and emotionally healthy so that I can spend my time doing things I enjoy and making a difference in the lives of others.

The desire to do so has got me thinking back to one of the best books I read in 2020: Die with Zero: Getting All You Can From Your Money and Your Life by Bill Perkins. Thanks in large part to it and to a financial coach I recently hired to help me shift from saving for the future to enjoying my money—and my life!—now, I am finally beginning to do so.

So whether my death comes next year, in 2036 as predicted by DeathClock or, as I hope, years after becoming a healthy centenarian, I am determined to hear the ticking clock as a call to action rather than a countdown to my final days. I hope you are as well as I’d love to have you and all Word Sisters along for the journey.  

My Sixties Echo My Twenties

Volunteering, embracing new ventures, and self-learning described my twenties. I ran marathons, took week-long bike trips with Jim Klobuchar (Jaunt with Jim), and was flooded with personal insights. Not long before this, I was a two pack a day smoker, didn’t own a bike, and hadn’t yet begun any inner work.

Springing into my twenties, I embodied two mottos: “Say Yes! to everything if it isn’t illegal or dangerous,” and “Don’t let fear stop me from doing things alone.” Do it anyway. Outer and inner work was simultaneous. I was desperate to understand myself. I wanted to be my own wise person. Seek my own counsel. Only then could I really be free to live my best life.

I rollerbladed marathons with a nephew. Volunteered at a week-long Christmas pageant, dressed as a Shepherd, herding live sheep. Often, I cat, and house sat for others while they were on vacation. After many attempts, I quit smoking.

Going it alone opened my world to many possibilities. If I wanted to do something, I could do it. I didn’t know anyone on my initial ‘Jaunt with Jim’ bike trip. By week’s end, I had lifelong friends.

A sense of déjà vu came over me the last week of March when I volunteered to be a Brand Ambassador for the Title IX Celebration at the Mall of America. There were eight days of family-friendly activities, games, and performances to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

I stood under the basket on the Fastenal Sport Court in the Rotunda shagging balls for the free throw contest.

I still hadn’t learned. Just like I biked over a rumble strip on my inaugural bike trip, spilling out, scraping my arms and legs, I was hit twice in the face with a basketball before I determined that positioning myself under the hoop was best left for others. I came home with black eyes.

My next volunteer assignment was the selfie booth. That might have been a mistake on the organizers’ part. The only person taking selfies was me. I can still entertain myself. That hasn’t changed one bit.

A familiar fear came over me when I started strength training. Crystel helped me over the hump and accompanied me on my first BodyPump group training at the YMCA. Sometimes, it’s good to have a friend. After one group session, I realized that my weights were not evenly placed on my barbell. No wonder I was unbalanced during the class with one end going up and coming down lopsided. I thought something was off.

Teresa, Crystel, and I volunteering concessions at Twins game.

Last week I started volunteering at Achieving Dreams. The program is entirely comprised of volunteers. All proceeds are focused on our mission to help families afford meaningful and positive experiences in organized activities and education. Jody, Crystel and I, along with friends are donating our time to fundraise for Crystel and others’ educational expenses.

How much time do I have left in this life? 10 years, 15? A day?

What’s next? Perhaps, biking across Iowa on my electric bike, grey hair askew, steering away from rumble strips, lifting my legs up when I go through puddles.

I’ll figure it out. I’m my own best counsel. I’m living my best life.

Somewhere on a Beach

February 2021 brought the 5th coldest ever 10-day period of weather to the Twin Cities going back to 1873.

Our frigid Minnesota temps were being blasted on the radio.

“Let’s leave for a month next year,” I suggested to Jody.

She was working remotely. What would be the difference if she was managing projects from a home office in Florida? 75+ degrees. Sunshine. Heat. Warmth.

What surprised me is how much I’m enjoying all of it. My heart beats faster. I don’t want to be inside.

The Atlantic Ocean is a 1 ½ mile walk from our AirBnB.

I’m driven to be immersed in the sunshine, heat, and warmth.

Sitting sedentary on the beach listening and watching the fits and starts of the waves, takes all thoughts from my head. Nothing else exists for that moment as the waves rush in.

I stay another moment, and another, and another.

I don’t want to miss a thing.

I Made It!

I didn’t die.

My goal for retirement was to get out alive. To not die while still working. Early deaths in my family haunt me. My parents and four siblings died early deaths at ages 72, 67, 60, 59, 57, and 30. That is unnatural.

Monday, I woke up with a smile on my face. My current goal is good health. I want to outlive my other seven siblings. My chances are good. I’ve recently become a mall walker when it is -10 windchill. Yes, I’m now one of those, I tell myself. Jody and I will be spending the month of February in Florida.  She’ll be working remotely while I’m walking the beach.

Our kids are our retirement plan. Crystel has applied for National Student Exchange in Hawaii for the 2022-2023 school year. We’ll follow her. They should be worried that we won’t leave their basement!

My next goal is to find my rhythm in retirement. Cooking, writing, reading, being outdoors. I want to find out what retirement means to me. Right now, it feels like freedom. A blank page to define myself.

Ready, Set … Bounce

I used to be resilient.  

At least that’s what a “How Resilient Are You?” quiz I took a decade ago indicated.

I came across the quiz the other day while purging a hanging file chockful of articles from Experience Life magazine. Featured in a September 2011 article titled “The 5 Best Ways to Build Resiliency,” my quiz results indicated that I was “highly resilient” and that I “bounce back well from life’s setbacks and can thrive even under pressure.”

No more.

My once optimistic self no longer looks on the bright side. Nor do I see difficulties as temporary. Instead, in large part due to COVID, I find myself in a perpetual state of ambiguity and uncertainty, a state sometimes even accompanied by a sense of dread.

Will I be able to join my sisters in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Will I be able to travel outside the United States while I’m still healthy enough to do so? When am I going to retire and where am I going to live?

Who the heck knows. I sure don’t. And I’m tired of trying to figure it all out.

I’m also angry more often than I used to be, sometimes for no apparent reason.

And once highly social, I’ve become a bit of a hermit. Many of my family members, friends and colleagues have as well.

Fed up with feeling alone and adrift, I’ve been working on being more positive and getting back in touch with that resilient me of a decade ago. She can’t be that far away. In fact, I know she’s not as there are days, even weeks, when she’s ever-present rather than elusive.

Books such as Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson have helped. So have books on resilience, four of which I discovered had been sitting unread on my shelf for years.

So now, when something goes wrong—like when I rolled my car into a parked car at my friend Pam’s husband’s funeral causing more than $3,000 worth of damage (even though I and the owner of the other vehicle could barely see the scratch)—I try to find the silver lining. In this case, it was being treated kindly by the owner of the car I’d damaged and by the friend who stayed by my side until I found him and told him what I’d done.

I’m also paying attention to my positivity ratio. According to Fredrickson’s research, we need three positive experiences to balance out each negative one. Normally those positive experiences would be part of my everyday life—a compliment on a new sweater, a hug when meeting a friend for coffee, a thank you for volunteering.

But being as I’m still not venturing out any more than necessary, those experiences are harder to come by. So instead, I make a point of calling at least one person a day and of sending at least seven cards a week. While the conversations sometimes last only a few minutes, they definitely brighten my day. So do the cards I send. I take pleasure in finding just the right one and in writing a heartfelt message or including a silly joke.    

I’m also striving to view my challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. That’s not always easy, in large part because I’m more of a “judger” who asks questions such as “Who’s to blame?” or “What’s wrong?” rather than a “learner” who seeks to grow by asking neutral, non-judgmental questions such as “What can this experience teach me?” or “Given my choices, what do I most want to do?”

But my favorite question, the one I’ve found to be most helpful is one I learned from Arianna Huffington who chose “resilience” as her word of the year. The question?

“How can I not just bounce back, but bounce forward?”

While I’m stilling working on my answer, I am growing more resilient—and bouncing a bit higher—every day. For that, I am grateful.