This month’s post explores an Agile Aging challenge: How can we preserve a tranquil private life while keeping informed about turbulent public affairs?

I’ll lead off with the recent family incident that bumped this simmering tension to my front burner. Then a few personal preconceptions about striking a sustainable balance. Next, the experiences and opinions of a Zoom circle of friends who agreed to share their own perspectives. Finally, some takeaways to distil what we’ve been learning together. 

My blog’s Walkabout series takes me out and about our retirement community’s Portola Valley neighborhood. Visual impairment has terminated my driving but spurred me to explore on foot. Although our small town is more rural than suburban, within a mile of our campus can be found a grocery store and a farmers’ market, a public middle school and a Benedictine prep school, two restaurants, town-government offices, a public library, an auto mechanic and a fire station. A bounty of opportunities for getting better acquainted.

This month I visited our two neighborhood restaurants. One well-established and respected, the other just starting up, both are owned and operated by immigrant couples. After introducing myself and my blog project, I was invited for cordial, candid conversations with the owners. Their small-business histories and strategies were fascinating. Their personal life stories were inspirational. 

What images come to mind when you conjure up Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London? For me, scheming pirates and straining sled dogs. Treasure Island and The Call of the Wild were among my most alluring childhood fantasies, first encountered in Classics Illustrated comic books, soon graduating to hard-cover editions.

What a treat in old age to explore both these bards’ Northern California connections. It turns out our region was crucially formative in their lives and in their work. Here are some notes from a recent expedition.

Friend and blog subscriber Bob Collins got me started with an emailed challenge. After conveying appreciation for my recent Walkabouts post, he asked if I couldn’t lower my sights from migratory wildfowl to skirmishing humans. Bob’s specific interest was in toxic disinformation, but his broader context was America’s electoral turmoil. He encouraged me to draw upon my international policy-advising experience to offer any national insights.

Now that visual impairment is prohibiting my driving, I’m deliberately transitioning to pedestrian explorations. Moving slower, covering less ground, but looking more, noticing more and garnering small enjoyments. I’ve already identified a dozen intriguing destinations to visit, a short hike from our retirement community’s front gate. Others will require Nancy’s transport and companionship to reach more remote, walkable sites. Apart from the pleasures of discovery, the physical-exercise benefits should be immediate.

September took Nancy and me on a 2,500-mile road trip around the Four Corners region of the American Southwest. It was a delight to explore this area’s diverse histories and cultures, archaeology and architecture, landscapes and literature.

Our 2+ weeks away also gave us the time and distance we needed to begin adjusting to our old age’s new phase.

I find myself increasingly preoccupied by compounding transitions. Closest to home, it seems as if all the residents in our retirement community are dealing with ailments, injuries or loved-ones’ demise.  TV news bombards us with images of “once-in-a-century” extreme-weather events that are becoming continuous. The COVID virus is stubbornly resurging. Ukraine-war fortunes tilt back-and-forth. Putin threatens NATO, Xi, Pacific harmony, and Trump, American democracy. Inflation drops while gasoline prices bounce. Weekly AI innovations offer promise and peril. Nothing stands still.

Some of these changes seem destructive and disheartening. Others, encouragingly transformative. Here are three examples that captured my attention as Summer yields to Fall.

I’m always interested in different takes on aging. How do diverse thinkers, writers, friends and public figures come to terms with growing old?

In this and other contexts, politicians attract special scrutiny. They’re on display, in the public limelight. How do they accept, downplay or cover up their signature signs of aging? A slower gait or precarious balance? A loss for words or embarrassing gaffe? How should we value their expertise and experience as counterweights to evident physical and mental slippage?

This month a curious pair of case studies captured my attention: Marcus Tullius Cicero and Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. Two powerfully influential politicians millennia apart. What can they tell us about effective aging in the public domain?

Growing old can be a twisting journey, like driving on an unfamiliar country road. You almost never know what lies ahead or when you’ll come upon it. Blind curves can lead to disruptive challenges or inviting opportunities. Agile Aging aims to address the former and embrace the latter. June surprised me with a linked pair of examples. The challenge was an unsettling ailment; the opportunity, restorative relief. Here are my journal notes.

Now that I’ve crossed the threshold into my eighties, I find myself increasingly pondering my future. What do I want to focus on and what let go? How long might I have left and how do I want to live it?

Here are three independent journal entries that approach these Agile Aging choices from different perspectives.