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Mature Content: Adjust, accommodate, repeat…

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

Martha Gallagher, MD, a retired anesthesiologist living in the Boston area, is an avid lifelong backpacker, hiker and wannabe skier. Over the years, she has plied the slopes of Aspen and Snowmass, walked the trails of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness and visited with her close friend, Judie Blanchard of Carbondale.

My wake-up call these days is no longer an alarm clock, but most often a very full bladder. I gently roll out of bed. The mornings of leaping from bed are long behind me. As I stand, my creaky right knee voices its usual morning complaint, a reminder of an encounter with a slippery root on a trail a couple of years ago. My left shoulder, another reminder of past misadventures, moans in harmony with my knee. And an overall stiffness sets the scene for these actors on my personal stage.

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I trundle toward the bathroom, acknowledging the existence of these symptoms, but otherwise ignoring them. I know that soon, with a coffee, the stiffness and aches and pains will mostly be gone, and I will be able to get on with my day: household chores, reading, exercising, engaging with friends, taking or teaching courses at a local lifelong learning institute.

It may take two days, rather than the one it used to take, to clean the house. My exercising will involve lighter weights or fewer reps compared with what I handled a few years ago. And I will walk my miles briskly instead of running them. But I am grateful for and enjoy what I can do. I have accepted my current status and made accommodations for it.

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Acceptance (in human psychology): A person’s assent to the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable one) without attempting to change or protest it.

Accommodation (in human psychology): The process by which existing mental structures and behaviors are modified to adapt to new experiences or situations.

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Returning to our bedroom, I find my husband of over 50 years sitting on the edge of our bed. He is going through his own morning ritual before making his way to the bathroom. First, he mentally prepares himself to stand on feet that have suffered fallout from chemotherapy. Now standing, but before taking a step, he reaches for his cane, which both helps with his unpredictable balance and lowers the demand on a severely arthritic hip — a hip he refuses to have replaced because, “I’ve had enough of hospitals.” He, too, has had to accept and accommodate.

The attributes of acceptance and accommodation do not magically appear and are not only important in the later years of living. Our then six-year-old son’s reluctant acknowledgement that he understood he wasn’t allowed to ride a monster roller coaster because of his height was, at the time, an example of acceptance. His verbal comeback, “but can we ride that one and the one over there?” demonstrated accommodation. Achieving the ability to accept and accommodate is a process — often a challenging one. It occurs in fits and starts, often without our awareness or conscious effort, and is molded by time and the external and internal experiences of living. Ultimately, achieving the ability to incorporate these attributes into our lives enables us to live more fully and meaningfully.

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Acceptance and accommodation are not only applicable to and essential for successful living at an individual level. Families, organizations, countries, societies and cultures all struggle with and attempt to apply, through a variety of processes, these powerful adaptive responses we have evolved. If nothing else, the past few years have demonstrated what can happen in a society when its collective members neither have the will nor have found the way to apply on a larger scale these fundamental tools.

I don’t get out of bed thinking profound thoughts about the psychology, sociology and politics of our times. In fact, such mornings are very rare. Most days, my first thoughts are focused on emptying my aging bladder. But, when these less prosaic musings surface, I marvel that the incredibly mundane activity of getting out of bed can provide an example of what people are capable of. And I wonder why we humans so often have such difficulty extending to others the acceptance and accommodations that we so naturally extend to ourselves.

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Mature Content is a monthly feature from the Carbondale AARP Age-Friendly Community Initiative

Tags: #aging #CAFCI #Martha Gallagher #Senior Matters
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