July 18, 2012

Reflections on Aging and Dying from 72-year-old Tom Hayden

This will, in effect, be a "guest post" from Tom Hayden, who most of us oldsters remember as an icon of 1960's radicalism... and the ex-husband of Jane Fonda. He was recently interviewed by the Washington Post at his office in Culver City, near Los Angeles. I found the interview fascinating, and particularly his thoughts on aging and dying, which I'll quote in full.

At 72, Hayden writes every day -- newspaper columns, books, tweets -- as part of a "moral obligation" that he feels to speak out. Nothing new there!

He had heart surgery "at the time of 9/11" and again last year. In answer to the question "how are you?" he says:
I am aware I have advanced heart disease. The interesting news is that I still play first base every Sunday on a baseball team. I have a 12-year-old son, a wife and quite a healthy family life.
How I take care of myself is I've stopped drinking any alcohol and changed my diet to manage the onset of diabetes 2, which can erupt as a pain in the nerve endings of my feet. That is managed by a drastic reduction in sugar and an increase in kale.
Hayden likes kale because of the way it varies -- cook it in an oven , put it in a shake. He's found that "anything that grows in the ground is the best approach to diabetes."

Here is the part of the interview that I fully identified with:
Do you wish you were still young?
No. What I have to adjust to is that I am in the dying zone, the dead zone. No one knows what I am talking about unless they’re in the zone. There’s a finality coming, and I have to accept that and prepare spiritually for that and have a sense of humor. But you can’t prepare for the end while dreaming about recapturing your youth. That’s ridiculous. I don’t wish that.

How are you preparing for the end?
Judging by my conversations with my friends, I am ahead of many of them because they prefer denial. I know one case where a man took a hike in the Santa Monica Mountains and sat down. He died while sitting. No preparations needed, just a good hike. I am fighting denial.
One of my theological heroes is the late priest Thomas Berry. He lived until 94. He and his followers invented Creation Spirituality. The idea is [that] creation is ongoing, and you are part of creation. John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, had the same philosophy. This cycle of creation is a cycle and doesn’t terminate. Your spirit goes on into the unknown future. This is all I know. It is not satisfying to a lot of people.

Any regrets?
What kind of question is that? To some extent, you can learn from things that were done wrong, went wrong against your expectations. To some extent you can make amends, but you can’t rewrite your life. . .
What about retirement where you stop writing and speaking?
No. That will happen soon enough. I don’t feel I am doing what I do out of a sense of duty. I feel it is a honor, and it comes from my deepest experiences and feelings. When I wake up I want to read the paper, I want to exercise and I want to write. I don’t want to do anything else....
Do you miss the excitement of the ‘60s? Is being old boring?I don’t miss it at all. I don’t miss the rush of being a young revolutionary. People who have those feelings at old age need to get a grip. You need to play your role, which is to carefully observe and listen and see if you have anything to offer.
I don't know when I've read comments on aging and dying that I agreed with so completely!

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