Have you noticed that something strange seems to happen after you reach the age of 60? The people in our lives, especially those closest to us, often make a quiet (but frequently misguided) gear shift into protection mode. Our children urge restraint when it comes to physical activities, our colleagues begin shifting stress-laden and travel-intensive assignments to younger employees, and our financial advisors cringe at the very thought of us making even a mildly risky investment.
Since I am wheelchair-dependent — it's no longer politically correct to say, "confined to a wheelchair," even though I have been for the past 25 years — I've been spared those annoying caveats ever since receiving my multiple sclerosis diagnosis back in 1984. But regardless of the state of our physical vitality, when we turn 60, others' fears and concerns for our safety enter our unconsciousness as a soft whisper. And by the time we've begun to receive regular Social Security checks, their uninvited, bright-yellow "caution" signs can literally dominate the landscape of our lives.
For those of us who are determined to make the very most of every single day we greet, the most challenging trick is to resist the temptation to let our chronological age turn us into timorous, fear-filled seniors. I've always been inspired by the unusual story of Annie Edson Taylor, the first person who ever survived riding over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Conventional wisdom would have us believe that such a dangerous adventure is something only an emotionally unbalanced, attention-seeking young man or risk-addicted teenager would have attempted. But that's not the case.
Taylor rode over the Falls on Oct. 24, 1901, her 63rd birthday. Her infant son had died years before, and soon afterward her husband died. For years, Taylor struggled financially until, out of desperation, she came up with the unconventional idea of achieving solvency by writing and lecturing about a life-threatening endeavor that no one had ever accomplished before. And she would be the one to accomplish it.
Taylor arranged to have a custom-made barrel built out of oak and iron, and she placed a mattress on the inside for padding. Two days before her scheduled attempt, to see if the barrel was strong enough to survive the trip, a domestic cat was placed inside the barrel and sent over the Falls. There are a number of old photos on the internet that show Taylor — in a floor-length dress of that era — standing next to the barrel, holding the cat after its successful journey.
Taylor's scheme did not, unfortunately, make her rich. But it definitely gave her a place in history. Her example of attempting something that had never been done before — and doing it at the age of 63 — should serve as a reminder to all that aging should have more to do with action, attitude and intention than physical or mental attrition.
We all need to remember that we (fortunately) don't have to cross Niagara Falls or make a record-breaking swim from Cuba to Key West, Florida (as Diana Nyad did in 2013 when she was 64), to welcome a little boldness into our lives. All we need to do is learn how to enthusiastically embrace activities and welcome challenges outside our comfort zone.
Never learned how to cook? Intimidated by the internet? Afraid to go scuba diving? Take it from me. There's no time like the present to seriously consider reaching a new goal. Once you do, I'm willing to bet that life will probably seem a little bit larger and a lot more colorful. Plus, those opinionated others might be so astonished by your senior goal-setting, especially when they see for themselves just how bold you have become, that they'll immediately stop trying to protect you.
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes." She can be reached at www.marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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