Higher Living Reflections

Friends: Vital for Healthy Aging – Part I

With our bodies increasing their deterioration rate as we move through the of-an-age stage of life, health concerns naturally move to forefront of consciousness. Even the healthiest and most fit are confronted with their physical decline. It’s natural, then, to focus on body maintenance. With aches, diminishing eyesight, and a host of other maladies elbowing their ways to the front, it’s hard not to. But our bodies aren’t the only aspect of our being that needs TLC; so too does our mental health.  

Too many view mental health through a clinical prism replete with challenging issues like depression, anxiety, and so on. Accordingly, many do not pay as close attention to their mental wellbeing as they do to their physical. If they break their arm or wrench their back, they seek treatment. But if their heart is broken or their spirit becomes laden with sorrow, they tend to sequester or conceal it. That’s a mistake. As it is with our bodies, proper maintenance of our mental health can forestall and even prevent crises from overtaking our lives.  

The old maxim that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure also applies to mental health. The wise don’t ignore that prescription. Instead, they tend to it daily and avail themselves to critical prebiotics like connecting and socializing with friends. It can be an elixir, a balm for the mind and spirit.

Friends. You might have a few lifelong ones from your youth and young adulthood. Others might be former neighbors or bar chums. And, of course, there are friends from careers, military service, and other professional engagements you were in the trenches with. Of the latter, mine are primarily teacher colleagues, companions from my days in the classroom.

On that, it was wondrous to see at a luncheon more than a dozen not-forgotten faces, all of which showed the wrinkles of time but none weighted down by aches, pains, and losses that come with aging. Conversations touched on challenges, but didn’t dwell on them. Smiles left no room for grimaces or frowns.

Initially, conversations ranged around reminiscences. That was to be expected. Laughter and war stories abounded. But the conversations didn’t stay focused on the rearview mirror of our lives. Rather, we shared news and gave updates of what we are doing in present time and of plans for days to come. The joy in the room was palpable. It was a triple-deck ice cream sundae packed with more flavors than Baskin-Robbins, topped by sinfully sweet whipped cream, nuts, and maraschino cherries. Diets be damned. We gorged on it.

As is my wont, I reflected on why of all the workplaces, schools and non-schools, I’ve had the pleasure and honor to be part of it is that group of teachers that continues to be particularly embracing and lighthearted. For at least two reasons. One is that middle school teachers in many ways reflect the energy of their students. (I’ll leave that to you to decipher.) The other is due to the school structure itself: It was an open-space building. It had no upper-story windows, few walls, and less doors. Only admins could close their doors and allow themselves a momentary respite from the din that invariably arose when a plus-or-minus thousand tweens and early teens were sequestered—incarcerated some of them would argue—in a building with no windows. And like all creatures large and small, we were shaped by that environment.

But even though the building structure compounded the already extraordinary challenge of teaching middle-level kiddos, it had an unintended wondrous consequence: comradery. When teaching, you were an open book for your colleagues to read and critique. When on planning time, you could flip the script and watch your colleagues in action. The outcome was that everyone got to know everyone not only personally but also professionally. We witnessed each other’s brilliance as well as their warts and flaws No secrets there.

Teaching at the middle and high school levels gave me the opportunity to observe and note the similarities and differences between the teachers at the particular levels. Professionally, there were distinctions between styles and approaches, primarily dictated by their students’ social and intellectual maturity levels. However, there were also strongly consistent  commonalities like a dedication to educational excellence. At the personal level though, there were no distinctions. To a one, teachers were and continue to be adventurous characters both in and outside of school.

A core feature of the adventurer’s personality and psyche is that of the risk-taker. At first, we tend to associate risk with physical endeavors, but as we know, taking risks is a major part of living. There are those, though, who are risk averse. Teachers, like their cousins in other human-intensive professions, are not among them. And that risk-taking was not limited to the classroom. We were and continue to be adventurous sorts.

So it didn’t surprise me to hear old friends and colleagues regale each other with their derring-do tales of adventure. Albeit as derring-do of-an-agers can muster. Some travel. Several have gotten into cycling. One works on a security team at Denver’s professional ballparks. A few immerse themselves into crafts like painting. One, despite her disability, teaches crochet to her assisted-living facility friends. The post-teaching iterations are as wide and varied as the members of our group.

That luncheon was magical, so much so that it caused me to further reflect on the balm of friendships, though this time outside the teaching environment. More on that next time in Part II of “Friends: Vital for Healthy Aging.”

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  • Jeanne Miller
    September 30, 2022 at 12:33 pm

    Fabulous!

  • Bonnie McCune
    September 30, 2022 at 1:09 pm

    Covid did so much damage to our ties like these. I got so beserk, I started scheduling coffee and lunch with two different people weekly. Occasionally a group I’d fallen out of touch with, too. Zoom helped, but not enough. By the way, my 11-year-old grandson attended his own first Zoom last week for student council. I can’t imagine what that was like.

  • Rick Posner
    October 5, 2022 at 1:49 am

    As a former junior high teacher, I agree! You have to be on your toes with middle schoolers!