Half a century ago, young Manuel set out from his home in Quito, Ecuador, to follow his heart to America. Last summer Manny became the newest member of our family when he married our sister. We recently met our new brother-in-law for the first time. What we found was a very young seventy-four-year old man.
The question is, “How does he manage to stay so young?”
The answer starts with five-o-four. This is the time his alarm wakes him every day. At 5:04, he heads to his living room and spends part of his waking hour on his rowing machine. Then he progresses into a hundred and twenty push-ups. Over breakfast, he completes the day’s crossword puzzle to limber his mind. And he’s off to work, a serious volunteer at a near-by hospital where he spends hours every day just helping people.
After work, he refreshes with a few laps at a YMCA pool before he heads home to cook up dinner for himself, his new wife, and any visitors who happen to be there, like us. He’s ready to engage anyone with an examination of life’s unanswered questions over dinner and a little wine.
Probably the questions, as much as anything, keep his mind spry. He’s figured a few things out, and he’s not afraid to share his thoughts.
Most pills, he insists, only lead to side effects that necessitate another pill. If we could get off the meds, we’d be much healthier.
What about headaches? No pill needed. Simply take a few minutes to concentrate on slow, deep breathing. Increased oxygen in your blood will cure many aches.
Questions keep his mind active. His search for answers wins him many friends. Generosity with his time and his talents builds relationships. His service to others nurtures friendships. With solicitous attention to our needs and comfort, he hosted our short stay with royal treatment.
While not everyone might be able to throw away their medications, or soothe a headache with breathing exercises, perhaps we can all learn something from this remarkable man. We need to question our lives and listen for answers. The art of questioning brings the power of listening. Maybe we all need to listen to what our bodies tell us and take preventive steps to conserve our health. We need to trust our own minds and trust our own spirits. I think perhaps we are losing the ability to hear what our bodies and the rest of the world try to tell us.
Contrast Manny’s finely-tuned awareness with the habits of successively younger generations. We are losing something—something which someday we might be desperate to find. We’ve been seduced by a life of ease. Seduced by technology. Seduced by laziness. Instead of listening to our bodies, we want others to tell us how to feel better, right now! We want a pill for everything. And the pills keep appearing.
We’re seduced by entertainment technology. We plop down and veg out in front of the large flat-screens in our homes and we lose the gift of creatively filling our spare time.
We download music and forget how to make our own.
We are mesmerized with cell phone technology. And we forget how to connect with another person in the same room.
We are seduced by shorter and shorter messages, texts, tweets and abbreviated words. And we forget how to touch others with a long hand-written letter from the heart. There is a debate in a nearby town whether children should be taught cursive writing any more. We are forgetting how to write our names.
Automatic transmissions, automatic dishwashers, automatic cameras, and remote controls for almost everything I can imagine fill our homes, our garages, and our lives.
We have been seduced by technology until most of us suffer an orientation disability. We seem to be lost. We can’t navigate without a GPS. (Whatever happened to map-reading or just plain-old-following-directions?) We don’t know where we are anymore, or where we need to go. We want somebody else to tell us where to go, to think for us, to add for us, to write for us, to drive for us, to work for us. Could it be we’re waiting for others to live for us as well?
We’re losing the ability to find ourselves and find our way around life’s perilous paths. We could learn a lot from elders like Manny. He knows how to ask questions and how to listen to his own heart. Welcome to the family, Manuel. It’s nice to have an elder again.
Re-cal-cu-la-ting . . . .