The Second Half: The three essential ingredients to renewal at any age

By Kathleen D. Tresemer

Oh, happy days! Flowers are blooming, birds are singing, and the motorcycles are rumbling up and down the road. With the exception of a few brief snow showers, I think spring is finally here.

This being the season of renewal, I am compelled to share with you the wisdom of someone who is big on the subject: Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland, clinical professor of surgery and bioethics at Yale University and author who reflects on the issues of the Second Half of life.

Nuland is 80 this year, and appeared vigorous and bright when I met him recently. He was a speaker for SwedishAmerican’s “Cardiology in the New Millennium” at Giovanni’s, a huge event—the place was packed. I was especially impressed with the selection of fresh-baked cookies and low-fat granola bars—nothing dampens my urge to throw spitballs more than a plate of warm cookies!

Nuland doesn’t make end-of-life his only focus, but his book, How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter, won the National Book Award. In 2007, he published The Art of Aging, a book focusing on “the difference between nurturing vibrant good health and nurturing the delusion of being still young.” Always a dilemma—for me it is the difference between buying a fashionable outfit that flatters me a lot while exposing very little, compared to a mini-dress with spaghetti straps, fishnet stockings, and high-heeled ankle boots. One looks good, the other is delusional…but that’s just me.

Nuland’s philosophy is pretty cool, and it captivated me. Among other things, he claims that “beyond the pursuit of wisdom, there is a triad of factors” he believes are essential ingredients for continuing renewal at any age. They are:

1. A sense of mutual caring and connectedness with others;

2. Maintenance of our physical capabilities; and

3. Creativity.

Nuland warns, “Each of the three requires work,” but promises great rewards for the effort.

“Creativity I’ve got!” I exclaim happily. My work isn’t always magnificent, but when people tell me, “You are so creative!” I’m pretty sure they sometimes mean, “You are so weird.” That’s OK, I’m willing to suffer for my art.

It stands to reason, then, that when people roll their eyes and say, “Man, you’re weird!” I respond with, “I like to call it creativity!” Nuland’s right, though, when he says this stuff is work. I always thought writers lived an enviable life, raking in the dough and enjoying leisurely days and nights of intellectual stimulation. What I’ve discovered is that writers are generally underpaid, work long hours in solitude, and people think we are…well, weird. SIGH!

Anyway, back to the “triad of factors”—I am deep in the throes of a physical maintenance storm: diet, exercise and meditation. I’m not turning into a super-jock, but I know when I talk about my recent fitness efforts, my friends and loved ones respond with a lukewarm, “Oh, hmmm, good for you.”

What’s more boring than hearing how your friend is eating and behaving healthier? The “pursuit of wisdom” Nuland referenced is starting to activate, I guess—instead of beating a dead horse looking for a bigger response. (“No, really, this is the greatest thing I’ve ever done for myself!”) I’ve started backing off when I see their eyes glaze over in that “Oh, great, she’s talking about her fitness crap again!” look.

Being a fitness freak, like being a writer, is a solitary existence.

Last of the three components of renewal is “mutual caring and connectedness with others.” That translates to getting active in your community, and the obvious choice here is volunteering. I LOVE volunteering—it helps you live longer, too. Research demonstrates that a minimum of 100 hours a year of volunteer work extends your life.

Hey, that’s awesome! No pills, no doctors, no surgery, no special diet…just a couple of hours a week. It doesn’t cost you anything, and it helps you to live a longer life of continued renewal.

The first step is to find something you like and/or maybe are good at: since I’m good at writing and love to learn stuff, I volunteer at the Rockford Writers’ Guild and the Center for Learning in Retirement (CLR), both easy choices for me. Check out CLR’s Volunteer Fair next month, with 35-plus organizations offering opportunities to help out and have fun doing it.

But what if you just like to “go along to get along” and not get too involved in stuff?

Ask Rockford’s celebrities who put on Lifescape’s Senior Follies each year—those guys and gals are having a blast, and everyone is a volunteer including: Master of Ceremonies Paul Logli; performers Carl and Dianna Cole; Director Angie Fellows; the Dixieland Docs and the East Bank Commanders Senior Big Band; Dr. Tumilowicz of Dental Dimensions; Mike Robinson from OSF; and Lynn Hansel of Whitehead Realty.

Those folks really get it! As for me, when it comes to renewal, I’m hitting it out of the park: “I’m three for three on the Nuland triad!”

What about embracing my age instead of being delusional? Volunteering and writing this column puts me in touch with all kinds of folks in every age bracket, sort of a constant dose of reality. I’m pretty sure if I were acting silly, I’d hear about it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to put on my chaps—in a few minutes, I’ll turn into Biker Ol’ Lady again. It’s springtime, and the Harley awaits!

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at

From the March 31-April 6, 2010 issue

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