What everybody knows is that the attitude with which you approach aging matters a great deal in your experience of aging. And if you’ve ever tried it, you know that you can’t just “adopt a positive attitude” the way you would put on a new shirt. Unless, of course, you have the level of arthritis many old hands have and you are unable to button the shirt—in that case, the shirt and the attitude share some attributes a younger shirt-wearer would not expect.
What I know about “adopting a positive attitude” is that the task is made a good deal easier if you can find a metaphor that helps you think it through—or visualize it or extrapolate it or imagine it or whatever you do with metaphors. A good metaphor, in this sense, is a metaphor that works for you. You might think of death as “the enemy,” for instance. You are fighting the good fight, like Roland at Ronceveaux. You might check off each new disability like so many stops on the train as you near the “station.” You might celebrate the joys of the wisdom and caring that are your part, in Erik Erikson’s schema at any rate, as an old person in the last stage of life.
Whatever works. These are not questions of truth and falsehood. They are questions of utility and effect.
So I thought of one today that I think will be a good one. I’m the quarterback of a pretty good but banged-up team near the end of the season. In honor of the victory of the University of Oregon football team in the Rose Bowl this year—the first such since 1917—and particularly in honor of their coach, Chip Kelly, I live by Kelly’s motto, “Win the day.” “Banged up quarterback” make me think of the Steelers, so I’ll use that as my visual reference.
I really like “Win the day” because it isn’t about game day until game day. On the first day of spring practice, “the day” is the first day of spring practice. Here’s what needs to get done today and if you do those things and learn what you should learn from it, you won. The next job will be to win the next day’s practice, but that’s not until tomorrow.
I like that because I am a runner, although given my times, that is more a courtesy designation than a defensible one. What I know is that when I set out on a run, I can give it all I’ve got, in which case I will be tired and happy afterwards, or I can pull back more than prudence requires and spend the rest of the day regretting my bad judgment. I know what “winning the day” is like on the trail.
But now I’m the quarterback of the team. I know what play has been called, but I also know a lot about the condition of my team. It is, as I said, late in the season. I’ve got guys on my team who can’t sleep through the night anymore and who, consequently, are tired a lot. I have guys whose knees are a little dicey and could run any play I called if it were slow enough. I have guys who can’t remember the whole playbook anymore. I have guys whose hands really hurt, sometimes, and who can’t squeeze a pen, much less a football with any velocity on it. I have guys whose weight has gotten out of control during the season and who can’t do the stuff they could do in spring practice, when a lot of these plays were drawn up. You get the idea.
So I come up to the line and I look over my players and I see what I’ve got to work with on this play. That’s my first job every morning. I look over the players I have to work with and decide on a play. Ordinarily, I’ve got most of that done by the time I get out of the shower in the morning.
I love all these guys. They’ve been with me for a long time. On the other hand, we are not going to succeed if I keep asking them to do things they can’t do (any more). I want to use their abilities and call plays the will use those abilities. That’s the only way to succeed as a team. That’s why I don’t call the plays as fast as I used to. I stand at the line and watch the clock run down. I give the count, I get the ball, and the day happens—I mean, the play happens. When I see how well it works, I will know better what play to call next.
I think I like this metaphor. There are opponents, but there aren’t any enemies. I’m surrounded by guys I respect, but who have gotten themselves banged up a little during a long season. I want to count on them to do everything they can—they aren’t going to win the day if they don’t—but I don’t want to make them do things they really can’t do.
They say, you know, that getting old isn’t for sissies. They got that right. Oh, I forgot to say, I’m the head cheerleader too. Not the only cheerleader, I am happy to say, but the most important one. There is a large array of boosters, but you know how boosters are. They pay a lot of attention to winning and losing, so they tend to come and go. Me, I’m more a “Win the Day” kind of person.