“Need a Quote”

To many people growing old seems like the endgame in chess: life winding down in a series of small moves with lesser pieces. As I age I have discovered this is not true. I am not an elderly king stripped of my powers, reduced to a ragtail army of pawns. My life is not a defensive struggle of restricted options. Growing old is a game of verve and imagination and excitement. The aging game is chess at its best. The opening gambit may have been made long ago. The responses long since set in motion. Some pieces have indeed been lost. But the board is still filled with opportunity. The outcome is not now a matter of strength, although that still remains, but of faith and courage, hope and wisdom. The aging game is a sport for which childhood and youth and maturity are no more than a preparation. Its scope comes as a surprise. It expands my life at a time when I expected it to diminish. It demands an excellence that no longer seemed necessary. It asks me to surpass what I did at the peak of my powers. Age will not accept second best. In the aging game I must be all I ever was and am yet to be. What has gone on before is no more than a learning period. A breaking in. Life, someone has said, is boot camp. If it is, age is the combat for which I was trained. Now I must take this person I have become and make each new day special. I must make good on the promise of every dawn I am privileged to see. Life goes from a minor to a major key. The game builds to a climax. Every move assumes importance. One feels like a virtuoso. The gifts we have been given, the powers that empower us, the marvels that make us marvelous are evident as never before. The truth is that we have lost nothing. The problem is not that I am less than I was when I was young, it is that I am not more. It is past time to become my own person. That is why the aging game begins with the awareness of one's need to grow and to expand in every sphere of one's existence. One learns that honesty is the only policy. As I age I find less and less need to dissemble. I have little difficulty looking truth in the eye and admitting it. Lies and deception are time-consuming, and time becomes essential. Time is what shapes the aging game. The clock and the calendar force me to make a move. Age does not permit the dallying with options that characterize youth. A labyrinth might be sport to the young. It brings panic to the old. My goal must be clear. The project outlined. The requirements understood. I must decide-if not this way, then there is no other way. Fortunately, I find this commitment no problem. I accept the game and the goals I have developed in those formative years. I enjoy the self I have become. I no longer desire to be what I am not. My dissatisfaction is only in my failure to accomplish what is clearly attainable. Such revelations frequently come late in life. They may arrive after decades of going in the wrong direction. I have a letter from a 74-year-old woman who had just run the Honolulu Marathon. "I have felt great ambivalence because by nature I seem to be a selfish person involved in understanding myself," she writes. "I picked social work as a career and was never really happy with it. I was much more interested in a variety of creative contemplative activities-dance, print making, poetry, all things hard to make a living at. Now I am retired and my own person. It is a new and wonderful life." This woman is a master at the aging game, in part because she brings to it the enthusiasm and zest and urgency that had been bottled up during those long years of social work. She is finally a united self. I continue to strive for that state. On the other side of my chessboard of life is a self with different interests. I look at this mirror image of me and see opposite tendencies. My alter ego sits there attempting to destroy my game, to block the forays of my knights, the hammering of my rooks, the sweeps of my bishops. This contented self wants to play the sacrifice game. This lesser "me" is playing for a draw, letting the clock run down and looking to the postgame comforts, rest and relaxation and retirement. There are, you can see, two ways to play the aging game. Book excerpt: Going the Distance