By Joyce and Barry Vissell
Last month, my husband Barry and I both turned 70. For half of our lives, we have been writing these columns once a month; 35 years of writing for magazines, and our own list. We used to mail out the columns to those on our mailing list, and we used to write each column by hand. It also means we can no longer deny that we are truly senior citizens. When we were younger, we used to look at people our age and say to each other that we would never grow older. Even though we are both very active, and committed to never retiring, we are growing older, and our bodies are slowing down a bit.
Most significantly, turning 70 is forcing us to look ahead to the future. How do we want to live the next 20 or more years? I am a swimmer, and I try to swim for an hour at least three to four times a week. After my swim at the local club, I sometimes sit in the hot tub for a few minutes to warm up. It is usually crowded, and many people come only for the hot tub, and seem to love to talk to others, even if they do not know them. Most people are my age, and the general topic of conversation is about the ailments of the body. People talk about their operations, their hips, knees, shoulders, their backs, what is hurting them, and how they are trying to overcome the pain. I sit there quietly and wonder if this is how I want the next 20 years of my life to be? Do I want it to be a total concentration on my body, and how it isn’t working the way it used to? Or do I want something more?
I want my next 20 years or more to be lived with purpose and joy. I often reflect on the advice given an American teacher, Ram Dass, by his guru. His guru was dying, and Ram Dass wanted advice on how he should live the rest of his life. Ram Dass was a young man at the time. His guru went into deep meditation and, after several hours, he opened his eyes and said simply, “Love everyone, serve everyone, remember God, and tell the truth.” Then he closed his eyes again, and the subject was closed. Such volumes of wisdom in those few words.
I want to live the next 20 or more years in love. I want to find even more ways to love and honor my wonderful husband. I want to deeply love my children and grandchildren. I want to love and accept myself with all of the changes I will be going through. Rather than being down on myself because I cannot do something I could easily do before, I want to be kind to myself, and love my aging body and mind. I want to be constantly trying to bring love and understanding into every situation, and be gentle with myself when I cannot be the loving person I want to be. I want to develop a more personal relationship with God, and feel how much I love and need that connection.
I want to be constantly serving in this life. I never, ever want to stop. I do not want to get to the point where I say to myself, “You have done enough, now you can stop.” My mother and father were such beautiful examples of this to me. My father had heart disease and lost his hearing completely in his late 80s, yet he did not lose the ability to craft things out of wood. Several months after being rushed to the hospital with a heart attack, he was back in his workshop making wooden toys for disadvantaged children. On the day before he died, he and my mother delivered these beautiful wooden toys to a very poor preschool that hardly had any toys. The children were so happy. My dad got down on the floor and played with the children and the toys. He felt so happy to be bringing magic and joy to their faces, and to give something of himself to them. My father died the next morning at the age of 89.
My mother was constantly writing cards of encouragement, and would write maybe eight a day. Then came the time when she could no longer write, and talking on the phone confused her. She was confined to a wheelchair. One day she said to Barry and me, “I realize I cannot do many things, yet I can still smile, and that will be my service from now on.” Almost every day, someone in our family took my mother to the beach where we pushed her along the sidewalk. She would smile at everyone she passed, and they always smiled back. Her presence seemed to uplift them. She had found a way to serve right up until her death.
I want to remember my creator and be grateful. Even if I am in physical pain and my body is not working the way I want it to, I want to remember to be thankful for the beauty of the earth, its people, and animals. I want to remember that gratefulness can transform any situation. When I was 20 years old, I lay dying in the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital as a nursing student. Nothing could be found to help me, and my parents had been called to come to my side for a final goodbye. I knew I was dying, and I felt helpless. I felt very vulnerable as various doctors and medical students came into my room to “study” me and my condition. One doctor even used a wooden pointer on my body, as he addressed his students on the different things wrong with me. Then I remembered the power of gratitude. I started thanking everyone that did anything for me. As I did so, I felt different inside, and knew that the gratitude was giving me power to be myself once again. I began to thank God for my life, even though it seemed to be ending after such a short time here on earth. Each time I felt grateful, I felt a power move through me, and I no longer felt so helpless.
I want to love, serve, and remember, until the very day that I die. I want to be able to look back at my life, and feel that I tried in my mission. I will never be perfect in this, yet I can strive to be the best I can be. In this way I will live with purpose and joy.
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk to Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant to Be, and A Mother’s Final Gift.
Call 831-684-2299, or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings, or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their website at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.