It’s been a mighty intense and hectic spring and early summer. But now – especially this lovely weekend – summer is here… “And the trees are sweetly blooming” as the old Highlands song has it. “And the wild mountain thyme grows around the purple heather….” And so on.
Such a sweet song. I learned it recently from my little grand-daughters, up in Blue Hill, and was singing it to myself in the car this morning, coming back from a wonderful row, over on Twin Lakes. Just because life was so damned good, after a bumpy stretch.
The spring was hard. Harry’s death and a couple of other things. And I was just the least bit scared that my life was taking one of those serious down-turns that it is bound to take, sooner or later, when you get into your 80’s. I had started to think that things were going to be different from now on. And worse.
And I was singing to myself this morning, because that turned out not to be true. Not even close, by heaven, and I rejoice. This is just personal stuff but maybe it’s worth getting into because it shows, in a way, that the promise of the Younger Next Year books – that you can be yourself and live the very good life almost all the way out to the waterfall – is just plain true. Or can be, if you work at it and have a touch of luck. Of which I have had a ton, obviously.
The background to all this is that I had had two set-backs, in the wake of Harry’s death. That weird faux heart attack that I wrote about before… the “widow’s broken heart attack” that turned out not to be a heart attack at all, just a stress-related weirdness. That wasn’t so hot but it went away fast, as promised. But it was followed by a persistent atrial fibrillation that did not. My heart was just about perfect, the doc had said, as far as veins and heart attacks were concerned, so I’d never have a heart attack. But the wiring got a little goofy, so I could have a stroke. I had to take a pill for that. And the a-fib – oddly – sapped my aerobic capacity quite a bit. Not so good. Me, of all people, huffing a little, climbing a couple of flights of stairs… going up a moderate hill on my bike. Oh, no. Second, I had this strange swallowing thing caused by some esophageal spasm that raised holy hell with my life, and it was getting worse. Quite a bit worse. Three or four times a week, something would get “stuck” in my throat and I’d be retching on the sidewalk while my dinner companions waited nervously inside. It roiled my stomach which had always been so pleasantly stable. Not great. Docs said it was not life-threatening but it sure was disruptive. What’s going on here?
I am a bit of a student of aging and know that you don’t age in a smooth, downward slope. You go down in steps. Big ones, some times. You have that heart attack. Or a fall. Or some damn thing. And you’re just not the same guy after that. You see it all the time. I was steeling myself for what was beginning to look, to me, like one of those Big Steps. Two doctors warned me about stress and told me to cut back on my admittedly ferocious (and pleasant) life. And that was working me; I found myself being distracted… losing interest. A touch of depression started to darken the edges of my life…my enthusiasm. Even my vaunted energy. Oh no!
And then, by heaven, all that turned out to be horse-shit. My wonderful New York heart doc said, recently, that the A-fib was a relative trifle. He thought he could fix it with a roaring, electronic shock (we do that this Friday…I’ll let you know). And even if that didn’t work, it wasn’t a big deal. I could still exercise every bit as hard – and as many days a week – as ever. My pump might slow me down a little but no real change. And I could go as hard and as long as I liked, without fear. I was blessed with this wonderful (heavily exercised) heart; I could do what-ever the hell I wanted. As for slowing down or de-stressing, he didn’t see why. “You’ll feel like doing a little less, over time,” he said, “but the Big Step? No. Not now,” he said, “and maybe not for a long. long time. Keep doing what you’re doing.”
Well, well, well! Talk about “make my day!” I have followed his advice and it’s going like gang-busters.
But I do have some sad news: I quit drinking. Me! Good grief. May I quickly say that it was not because I suddenly thought drinking was a bad thing. No, no, no. It has been one of the solid joys of my life for sixty years. Nothing is sweeter than the rattle and tingle of the cocktail shaker, up here in the Berkshires house, at the end of the day. Love it. Few things are more satisfying than the martini or Manhattan at Elio’s in New York on a winter’s night. If you can handle it – and some surely cannot – drinking is one of the joys of the good life. Certainly one of the joys of my life.
So what’s this all about? Well, in an effort to head off or moderate what I feared might be that Big Step, I got to thinking about both the A-fib and the swallowing horror. Both of which cited booze as a negative. The only two health worries in my life and both with a yellow light for booze. I got to thinking.
Bill Fabrocini says that, as you get older, the “margin for error gets smaller.” He’s talking movement and exercise but clearly the rule had broader application. I thought I was maybe shrinking my own margin further by drinking, when I had these two conditions. So I quit. Cold. And with astonishing ease. I may end up in the gutter next weekend but I’d be surprised. Because, for me, it’s worth it. It simply cured the swallowing problem over night. Gone. Pretty hard to ignore that.
And now – like every other silly son-of-a-bitch who quit drinking – I will bore you with a couple of other things. I sleep way better, which is worth a ton. I do not wake up in the middle of the night with mysterious, sleep-ruinous guilt over God-knows-what. I am – and I hate to admit this – a little sharper all the time. And have even more energy. (It is widely thought that I have too much energy to begin with and ruin everyone’s peace, churning around and raising hell, so that may not be all good.) I think I’m a little duller but Hilary says that’s wrong…I am just a little calmer. Dunno as I like that; I am not built for “calm”, but that’s what I got. And I get more stuff done. I am hard at work these days – with the great back-pain healer Jeremy James – starting a back-pain video business and writing a back pain book for Workman. That wonderful project is going better. And my sacred novel – we’ll talk about that another time – is looking as if it just might get published. Life – in other words – is about as intense and sweet as one could wish. And the stupid business of not-drinking has been a major help. Sorry. Mostly it has been the good health news that has me back on my pins, but the booze has been major, too. Major. Do I miss it? Like crazy. But I like this new stuff too. I am still in the summer of my life, “and the trees are sweetly blooming. And the wild mountain thyme lies among the purple heather.” Do I like that? Yes. Yes, I do.
Will I ever drink again? Maybe. When the a-fib and the acid reflux are totally gone (a possibility). But I doubt it. I miss it like crazy but I still doubt it. We’ll see.
This will just take a second but let me tell you, briefly, about this row this morning. It’s of-a-piece with the whole “summer is coming” business.
Because of the a-fib and the free-floating fear of the Big Step down, I have not rowed at all this year. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I’d tip over. Or I wouldn’t be able to breathe. Or some damn thing. But, with the surge of optimism in the wake of the new medical advice and the no-booze, I felt like it again. And it was a stunning pleasure. Nothing special… just another row on a lovely lake, on a perfect, summer morning. But, at the same time, one of the best days of my sweet life. (I cooked for 14 last night – salmon, farro, carrots and salad…wonderful – but I still slept like a child and was up and full of beans at six.)
I am a wretched athlete, but rowing – like skiing – is one of those things you can just learn, with hard work and application, so I’m not bad. I have a “good stroke” (that means technique, which is key). And good balance. And adequate strength. The balance, by the way, I think I owe to Bill Fabrocini and his terrific warm up exercises… and his fast-footwork sessions. I’ll come back to it in a minute but – if you haven’t done so – by all means get Bill’s and my Younger Next Year: THE EXERCISE PROGRAM and maybe the related videos. They have made all the difference to me. And you need them more, not less, as you climb over sixty and beyond.
Anyhow, once you learn something like rowing (or skiing), you just plain have it, at least if you work out and stay in decent shape. I carried my boat down to the water (see pic) and climbed in. I nervously started to row (it is a cynch to flip one of these suckers: they are 26 feet long, less than a foot wide and they are delicate). And it all flooded back in an instant. That old friend and ally “Muscle Memory” cut in at once, and my stroke and my balance were fine. More than fine, and the whole thing was an absolute joy.
I was out there for about an hour, almost all alone. A couple of pals to say Hi to but mostly alone…with the wild ducks and geese and a circling hawk. And the surrounding mountains. And the shear pleasure at being alive and being myself, in this, the 83rd year of my life and my joy. There you go.
BILL FABROCINI’S STREAMING VIDEOS FOR FLEXIBILITY AND STRENGTH
Okey-doke, pause for a semi-commercial announcement. Next letter, I’ll tell you more about Bill Fabrocini’s remarkable, new “streaming” strength/flexibility videos, now available by subscription, pretty cheap, on the Youngernextyear.com website (go to the “Store”; we hope to have a separate button for it on the title bar soon). My balance is partly a gift of God. But much, much more a gift from Bill Fabrocini. Ditto,range of motion and flexibility. I do his warm ups religiously and his strength training semi-religiously. And I think it makes all the difference. Try it, you’ll see. And, as I say, it gets way more important once you pass 50 or 60. To say nothing of 80! Go to the web site and sign up. It is the rock on which my sweet life is built.
JEREMY JAMES, OUR NEW BOOK AND OUR ASTONISHING VIDEO PROGRAM FOR BACK PAIN
It is way premature to talk about this, but most of my life these days is devoted to a new video business and an absolutely terrific new back-pain book which I am doing with Jeremy James, the most successful healer of back pain in the country. We hope to have the video business up and running by late this fall – we have raised a ton of dough and done a huge amount of work. The book comes out next spring. Our modest goal is to cure most Americans with back pain with an entirely new, non-intrusive and permanent Protocol. It is way premature to talk about, as I say, but it is so big in my life now, I just have to mention it. We will fix your back. No joke. Ever since Younger Next Year, we have been in the business of changing people’s lives. This will be a mighty step in that direction. A STEP UP, BY HEAVEN! NOT DOWN.