Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 18, 2013

Perspectives: Structuring a balanced life as we age

Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — Whether we realize it or not, we all live within “structure.”

Sometimes it becomes too limiting or too confining. This can be physical, emotional and spiritual.

The most obvious structure is our homes. While they provide safety and often pride, they contain us and define what we may do in a specific space. After a few years in our homes, we are ready to change the paint, add or move furniture and sometimes even remodel. We decide how best to live within the structure called home.

Our lives also have a structure to them. For the most part, it is one we have chosen or accepted. We get up at a certain time, eat breakfast, go to work, exercise and interact with family and friends.

Sometimes outside influences cause us to change our daily patterns. Sometimes we make decisions to change the routine. On a given day, we may decide to stay in our pajamas all day, eat when we are hungry and pass the day with TV reruns. We change the pattern knowing we will return to it tomorrow.

The process of aging involves the changing of patterns because influences from outside and within us call for modification and variation. We may try to continue with the older and better-known paths, but they become less rewarding — sometimes consume too much energy — and soon we feel limited rather than free.

Our spiritual lives,w too, provide a structure. Weekly church, mosque or synagogue attendance gives us contact with our larger religious communities; but we often struggle within the format of the service. Sometimes we want it more “traditional” (however we define “tradition”) and on occasion we want something new.

At any age, however much we need structure, we also need to know there are times without structure, no definite plans or any commitments other than “to be.” We can think of all manner of “ought to,” “should” and “need to,” and they can usually wait. And when we return to them, it is often with increased energy and perspective.

There are certain revelations that have been reserved for those over age 60, and I will share some with you (if you promise not to tell). Movie theaters are open during the day all week long for people who don’t have to wait for the weekend. A simple dinner out on a Tuesday is sometimes even better than the Saturday night routine. Laundry washed in the evening is just as clean as morning laundry (and the same is true for vacuuming).

Professor Robert Atchley has taught that a spiritual life — one focused on spiritual growth and deep human experience — is a major motivator for people over the age of 40. Even the road to a more spiritual life need not be fully scripted. In fact, it’s often better wandering along the road of life gathering meaning and self-understanding without setting an agenda that states, “This year I’m going to improve myself in X way.” Just wander. Realize you can read during the day and not just at night.

In our earlier years, many of us sought answers to what we felt were important questions; those that would help us make a contribution to the world. But many of us are at the point in our lives when we want to ask questions and just let the curiosity lead us down an uncharted path. We are not ready to walk away from all we have known and been, but we are open to new dreams.

The Book of Joel, 2:28 tells us, “old men will dream dreams and youth shall see visions.” I see a distinction between dreams and visions. Dreams are based on experience and an integration of life. Visions are hopes still requiring structure.

So dream, dear friends, and wander and alter patterns and thoughts. Live fully.

Dr. Albert M. Lewis is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth El in Traverse City. He is a public speaker and author of “Soul Sounds: Reflections on Life,” available at Contact him through the Record-Eagle, 120 W. Front, Traverse City, MI 49684.