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Is Your Life Shrinking, or Expanding?

Updated on October 7, 2012

A Critical Awareness about Living

We visited my mother. She was ninety-one then and had an apartment in an Assisted Living complex. While we were with her, a strange awareness came to me. Her world is shrinking, drastically.

Though she seldom ventured more than a hundred miles from her birth city (she did visit Chicago a few times, took a bus once to Rapid City, SD, and the train from Illinois to California and back one time), she wasn’t exactly sheltered.

But now all that has changed. Most of her friends have died. Her hearing is 90% gone, as is good sight in her left eye. She is most animated when complaining about something, always finding the fault in someone else, and is passive in her aggression.

Most people who know her superficially think of her as such a nice kind lady. They don’t hear what she says about them once they’re gone, or see the futility in their trying to solve the myriad of problems she says confront her.

My mother lives in her own world. No, she’s not senile. Instead, she’s alert and in touch with reality. No, she’s not sick. Other than a pacemaker and some minor ailments, she looks and acts fairly healthy, for her age. No, she isn’t cut off. She has visitors, watches every Cubs ballgame, reads her mail (if the script is large enough) and still sends an occasional birthday card or note.

But my mother lives in her own shrinking world . . . physically, emotionally, spiritually, personally. Her life has consisted of a series of ever-smaller concentric circles, and that’s what led me to the strange awareness I mentioned earlier. Unless each of us takes steps to expand our horizons and world, our lives will shrink away too – until there’s nothing left.

That’s why it’s so important to read, to discuss, to visit with others, to travel, to be informed, to exercise, to eat well and pay attention to additives in our food and addictions in our lifestyles.

It’s important that we have goals and draw up ‘to-do’ lists for ourselves and check off each item on them as we do it. It’s important that our lives matter and that we set out to accomplish something while we’re here.

In short, we should be creating ripples of activity and meaning with our every word and act, expanding our horizons and interacting with the people around us. “Lose it or use it” is a common phrase; it should be applied to every aspect of our being. The Episcopal sage Ruelle Howe was fond of saying ‘if you’re not growing, you’re dying.’

My wife and I have decided that the term “elderly” should only apply to persons who are one hundred or more, and by the time we get to that stage of life we agree that we may have to revise that threshold upward. But for now it’s enough to have the strange awareness that life is a pattern of circles that either contract or expand.

Are you creating ripples . . . or a black hole . . . with your life?

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