When I see commercials on how to recreate the body I had at 20-years-of-age by applying a magical cream that isn’t sold in any regulated stores (but is free to me for the next ninety minutes if I agree to receive 324 months of the stuff), sit back in my rocking chair with wrinkles and flab, delighted I learned to adapt to a normal phase of living.

We are born, develop, reflect, age, and die. I don’t think anyone has found a way to extend the process, no matter how much we wish for a different outcome, the products we buy, the new relationships we create, or the prayers we utter.

Unfortunately, many people equate adapting to “giving up” or “acting one’s age.” To feel younger, we buy cars associated with people half our age, wear clothes that embarrass our adult children, and try to rebuild our bodies through dangerous 800-calorie diets and training that would give a hernia to a life-long weight lifter. When we do these things, we think we’re halting the aging process. Wrong. What we are doing is unsuccessfully trying to prevent the inevitable.

Does that mean I think we should sit in a La-Z-Boy eating Hostess cupcakes, watching the fat grow around our waist, and listening to the cholesterol gather in our arteries? Absolutely not. We should neither fight nor give up. We need to adapt.

A few months ago, I began woodcarving. I used blocks of kiln-dried wood for the first few pieces. All sides were planed to eliminate imperfections, and nothing in the wood interfered with the pattern I drew on the surface. I cut out unwanted wood and the end product was a sculpture—not great—but one that satisfied me. Everything changed when I began using found-wood; pieces from the side of the road, firewood piles, and on the beach.

If I pretended the groves and irregularities had smooth surfaces, I would need to carve away most of the wood before I drew a pattern on the surface. I quickly learned that I could only carve what the wood allowed.

Often during the course of cutting, a rotten piece became exposed, and I needed to rethink a design I thought was perfect. Sometimes the rotted part became an integral point of the sculpture. Not because I wanted it to be, but that’s would the wood said it should be.

I learned found-wood’s unchangeable parameters set limits on my creatively. Knot and twists—just like aging—don’t disappear, no matter how much I wish both would.

THE TAKEAWAY. You can’t change a three-foot oak log with bug rot into an immaculate piece of Honduran mahogany, nor make life’s limitations go away. Successful aging is similar to carving found-wood. Don’t fight it, but rather learn to joyfully adapt.


Stan Goldberg

Stan Goldberg is a Professor Emeritus of Communicative Disorders at San Francisco State University. For over 25 years he taught, provided therapy, researched, and published in the area of information processing, loss, and change. Stan has published seven books, written numerous articles and delivered over 100 lectures and workshops throughout the United States, Latin America and Asia. He is currently working on a novel and a book on loss. He also consults on issues of personal, institutional, and corporate change. He has served as an expert legal witness in high-profile court cases and is a consulting editor for Oxford University Press. Stan leads workshops for adults whose lives were suddenly and traumatically changed. He serves at the bedside hospice volunteer in San Francisco for Pathways Home Health Care and Hospice. and is a featured columnist in the Hospice Volunteers of America quarterly magazine. His published magazine articles, essays, poems, and plays have received numerous national and international writing awards. Written with humor and sensitivity, they have appeared in magazines ranging from Psychology Today to Horse and Rider. His latest book is Lessons for the Living: Stories of Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Courage at the End of Life http://lessonsfortheliving.blogspot.com. It’s a memoir of his six years as a bedside hospice volunteer; an experience that taught him to accept his cancer and live fully, no matter how long that might be. He can be contacted at stan@stangoldbergwriter.com. Numerous downloadable articles appear on his website www.stangoldbergwriter.com

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