My wife Peggy and I have a little game we like to play. It goes like this: Peggy makes a statement (or asks a question, either way, it doesn’t matter) and I respond, “What?” She then repeats what she just said, as do I, “What?” She then tells me I need my hearing checked. I give her a puzzled look. She comments again on the state of my hearing to which I say, “Huh?” Then I chuckle. The other day I told her, “That joke just does not get old.” She gave me an icy stare and held it so long that I wondered if she heard me.
This is just one example of the need to make accommodations as we grow older. Peggy was always a soft-spoken person. It was a charming attribute in a teenage girl, but it can be frustrating in an older person. She must know her voice is getting softer with age. To accommodate this loss of vocal power she needs to speak louder. At least this is what I thought until I realized that the people on TV were also speaking more softly than they used to. Then it occurred to me that in social settings I was looking to Peggy for visual clues as to what our conversation partners were saying. If she indicated I needed to make a response I would have to ask them for clarification. Perhaps I too needed to make some sort of accommodation.
Aging seems to be an unrelenting series of accommodations. They can feel like a terrible burden and viewed from a younger perspective they may seem like diminishments. But in retrospect it is clear that all of life is a series of accommodations or readjustments. The 19th century Japanese scholar, Okakura Kakuzo observed that, “The art of life is constant readjustments to our surroundings.” Those readjustments sometimes involve subtractions and sometimes additions. Either one can be a cause of grief and/or joy. But Kakuzo’s point is that if we are to live well we must always be discerning and adjusting. I like the word “accommodation.” It has a similar meaning to adjustment or adaptation but it has the added meaning of making room or space. So if I am to live well in the coming years I must make an accommodation for my hearing loss. I must make room to add something to my life. I think that will probably be some kind of assisted hearing technology. I’ll give it a shot, knowing later readjustments will be required.
Whether we are still young or have come to the age where people around us are suddenly speaking softly, it is important to discern what our actions will be given our evolving surroundings. Here perhaps we can turn to Reinhold Niehbur’s prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.