There are approximately seven minutes between when my head hits the pillow and when I fall asleep. Do not be jealous. I have worked hard at this over a number of years. I am now the proud owner of a brain and body that can power down anywhere, anytime, on short notice. For me, sleep hygiene is unrelated to stress. I’ve simply trained myself to sleep. I think it might have started back in Alaska, during that summer when the sun never set. I was a confused nineteen year-old kid with just a bunk and a sleeping bag. We made it work.
Before I give in to sleep though, my heart and mind and soul partner together to review what I now call “the run-down list.” Almost all of the items on the list are completely unnecessary and even worse, pointless to mull over in a dark bed. But hey, baby steps. At least I’m not losing sleep over here. I touch on each topic as it comes, speak truth or encouragement or humor to it, and move on to the next. Here is the list lately.
my kids’ souls
my kids’ self-esteem
my kids’ destinies
did I lotion up my feet
did I use my new essential oil blend on my nails
why do we never seem to have enough money
why do I keep looking at money the wrong way
would Chris be willing to check me for lice again
does anyone in the house have pinworms
was that a throw-up cough I just heard
is using a sound machine app on my phone poor parenting
it feels so good to prepare for the next day the night before
it feels so good to be dairy-free and have clear skin again
will I ever get a massage again
will I ever get a facial again
will I ever get to the gym again
is my pillowcase the right kind for my face and hair
is my sleeping position the right kind for my muscles and bones
can’t wait to pick up where I left off on my Audible book tomorrow
can’t wait to sell and buy some more stuff on eBay
what a time to be alive in the Church
what a time to be alive in America
what a time to be alive as a woman
when will I eat tacos or sushi next
will Chris sleep okay tonight
do I need to pee one more time
are my slippers next to the bed
why is the Bible app’s verse of the day is always so timely
Life lessons learned from the 70+ crowd at the gym:
1. Make an experience of it. While exercise takes up merely a fraction of my day and my brain space, it appears that the older generation builds their entire day around their time at the gym. In the locker room, there’s talk of waking up hours before their swim class to let dogs out or read or get warm enough to make the drive over. Bags are packed the night before, and plans are made for showers or lunch or an errand afterward. Naps are a must, too, and built into the schedule. And don’t worry, we’ll all have a lengthy conversation to help them weigh the cost of whatever decision must be made or a plan that might need adjusting. Whatever they’re doing, these people soak it up for all of its worth.
2. Sit down when you need to. Contrary to my prideful personality that does not like to take a timeout, I’ve seen women cut out of class fifteen minutes early. Sometimes, it’s to get the shower stall they want, but often it’s because they’re just plain tired and over the exercise. Some of the men in the weight room seem as though they come just to chat. They spend exponentially more time in a chair in the trainer’s office than they do on a treadmill. I think I’m the only one who doesn’t take a rest between showering and getting dressed. I’m hopping into my scrub pants with water droplets still on my legs. My workout buddies know how to pace themselves. But again, see #1. They’re in it for the experience.
3. Pay attention to your surroundings. I’m hyper-aware of my environment most of the time, but it comes from an introverted, anxious “I hope I don’t get attacked or have to talk to people” perspective. The old folks at the gym are not afraid of engaging. I’ve never seen people react so harshly to their routines being interrupted. I watched as a woman came back to her locker one day, dripping wet from the pool, to find someone else’s lock on it. Apparently, she’d taken their regular spot and would have to learn the hard way. I’ve also never seen such community like the friendships at the gym. The older people take care of each other like nobody’s business. I’ve found treats and presents for my kids tucked inside my gym bag, once I’ve left it in its usual spot on the counter long enough for them to trust me. It pays to follow a routine and play nice with the locker room ladies.
4. Take your time. I try to be in and out of the gym in under an hour, even less if I’m not showering there. Not my elderly friends. Some of my favorites are the ones who arrive at least twenty minutes early for their class or personal training appointment. One reads in a lawn chair in the locker room, and another loves to chat so much he could talk a brick wall into working out with him. I also love the folks who know when to call it quits, sometimes before things ever really get started. I saw a woman literally leave the gym and not go to class one day, because she’d left something in her car and figured she’d miss part of class by the time she got back from the parking lot. These people do not hurry. They have no need.
5. Say what you mean. I have learned more about conflict resolution from seniors than any other group. These people know how to speak their minds and it’s beautiful. They tell the teacher if they didn’t like her music choice. They call each other out if they haven’t been to the gym in awhile. Last week, a larger woman wrapped in a tiny towel walked right into the tiny sauna while I was in it, got comfortable next to me, and asked me to adjust the light for her. If the roles were reversed, I would have skipped the sauna that day to avoid bumping up against someone else’s routine. Not her. See #1. We’re really missing out if we aren’t treating each day like a luxury to be fully experienced.
EDITED TO ADD: A reader added an incredible lesson... self-confidence and body image goals! Those gals strip down in the locker room like it's no big deal, never glancing around or at themselves in the mirror. They don't give a second thought to how they look in a bathing suit or workout gear, either. One of my favorite ladies literally pulls up a chair and sits beneath the hand dryer in the bathroom, chatting with everyone while her hair dries. Talk about efficient!
We were out of town at a family wedding two Aprils ago, getting ready in the hotel room, when I heard the knock. I’m sure I was in my robe, curling my hair or something. My husband let my grandfather in, and I could tell right away Papa meant business. He started moving furniture (89 years old, post-back surgery) and set up a little conference area by the window. He tapped the small side table he’d set up between two chairs, a signal I’d long ago learned meant that I was to sit down. This was to be was a legacy talk, the kind that outlasts him.
You see, my grandfather is pretty healthy. He’s overcome war and illness and injury and still lives independently, with my grandmother. He still attends church and works his land and exercises regularly and tutors kids at the nearby middle school. He’s got that vitality life on lockdown.
But my grandfather is fascinated with his mortality. Ever since I could remember, he’s been happy to discuss his final arrangements with anyone who will listen. Over the last several years, though, he’s become very focused on his legacy. What will they remember me by? Do they understand what I believe? Do they feel what I feel? Will they keep what I share?
And so we have these talks. Sometimes they’re back-to-back, and sometimes a few years passes between. Once, when a boy asked me for a kiss on a camping trip, Papa overheard. He called me into the camper, literally packed the place up and changed campsites, and had me draw a pie chart about the whole thing on the trip home. He named it our “I-85 conversation.” Needless to say, my first kiss did not happen for years.
Before the weekend of the family wedding, I’d never pushed back on Papa’s viewpoints. Usually, I took notes and kept my mouth shut. I’ve always been here to receive. My grandfather is the wisest man I’ve ever known, and never had it crossed my mind that I’d challenge and stretch and grow him like he had done me.
Until the talk that weekend. Election drama was heating up, Donald Trump was headed to our family party’s national convention, and Papa was unsettled about the direction of our country. He asked me to write two words on a piece of paper. Truth, and Righteousness. Don’t forget the capital letters at the beginning. And then he pointed at the words scrawled across the hotel stationary, with that arthritic finger of his. Those are the only two things I want to live by for the rest of my life.
As he unfolded his argument, I felt the Holy Spirit hover between us. This man with whom I share blood, and a love for Jesus, was suddenly on the very opposite side of the very small table that very much filled the room. I did not agree with my beloved Papa, and I was about to go there.
I don’t know, Papa. I don’t think I see it that way.
He paused. He smiled, eyes glistening. He cocked his head, hearing aids tilted it in prime position. And he invited me in. So I went there.
I only see one word with a capital letter in Scripture. Love. I see Jesus caring about truth and righteousness, but I see him repeating over and over that our only job is to love people. I believe that it’s dangerous to plant a flag on any argument other than one that aggressively, unconditionally, loves people like our Savior did. I believe that there are lot of tenants that sort of just naturally flow out of our focus on the one commandment – Love. With a capital.Love is what I want to live by for the rest of my life. I asked him to dig through the Bible and ask God what he thought. I think love has to go first.
He told me I’d given him a lot to think about. We’ve never revisited the conversation. But in the last two years, I’ve watched a 91 year-old man attack the life he has left with a renewed sense of vigor. Dripping with Love. With a capital letter.