Jumping Through Hoops

Jumping Through Hoops

Thursday morning we left Port Townsend for a long getaway weekend in Walla Walla, Washington.

As we were traveling East on I-90 we began to make our way up the rain soaking mountain pass (please contain your shock at us having rain in Washington) when we came upon a military caravan. The vehicles appeared to be much more than the typical Humvee or troop carriers. The “wide load” vehicles had serious guns and in some cases what appeared to be some type of small rocket launchers.

Now, while it was interesting to pass these large vehicles, the even more interesting thing was that all of these vehicles had 4-8 military personnel sitting on top. The young soldiers, with their backpacks tied on to the side of the vehicles, were all exposed to the wind and rain. The stormy weather was pelting them as they traveled some 55 MPH up the interstate. Certainly they were all wearing protective rain gear…but ouch, they looked absolutely miserable. As we gained elevation, approaching the summit, my car’s temperature gage went down from 46 to 37 to 32 degrees. The rain turned to snow. Those fortunate soldiers on the rear of the vehicles were seated facing backwards. Those seated on the front of the vehicles had no option but to face forward and take the elements head-on.

Especially at the lower elevation…and “warmer” temperatures some of the soldiers would smile or wave as the passing cars would honk or wave at them. At the same time we noticed a few of the soldiers with almost a frozen look of fear and pain. We could only imagine what might be going through their minds. Perhaps “Why didn’t I join the Navy?”

The four of us in our car all expressed empathetic concern for these young men and women. Especially as we got into the windy snow-blown section of the highway, we were all wincing as we passed vehicle after vehicle (there had to be at lest 50).

One question bantered in our car, was why the commander ordered this military event during a storm. “Have they no sympathy?” As I thought about it, the commander may have had sympathy for the troops, but that is not the general point of training exercises…is it?

Even though I have never been in the military, my guess is that this exercise is about…well, exercise, training, and “work hardening”. Many times trainees are simply expected to “jump through hoops” for the sake building strength and endurance.

If our soldiers just sit around drinking beer and eating donuts all day they will be anything but “hardened”. But what does this have to do with us?

It is likely that many of us can identify with having to be “hardened” or even “jumping through hoops”. I certainly had that experience numerous times in graduate school. One prime example was when my dissertation Chair assigned me to read and provide a written report on three rather large books by our meeting, the following week. The assignment was bad enough but the real corker was when I showed up the following week with my ten-page response prepared to share my work with my Chair.

When I handed him my paper he asked, “What is this?” I of course told him it was the response-paper he requested. At that point he denied that he had ever given me the assignment. What! I tried to figure out if he was being a power-abusing jerk or if this was a behavioral expression of dementia. Once I got over my immediate shock, I came to a third interpretation of his behavior. I actually believe he was having me “jump through hoops” to harden me. I think he wanted to see how I would react to the situation. Choosing to believe this third option, I ultimately tried to be grateful for his tactic.

What does this have to do with positive aging? What does this have to do with us? I think a lot.

For one thing, the use-it or loose-it principle is at work here. There is something important about the human body. It does worse with dis-use. A light bulb wears out with use. Our body and mind wear out without use. It is so easy to think; well I was “hardened” during school or the military or during my training at work. Yes, we may have been. But that historic hardening could only ignite us, not sustain us; and certainly not advance us as we age.

I believe the way we respond to new hoops will either strengthen or weaken us. The way we “jump” will have a distinct effect upon the direction of our aging. Will we be FineWiners or Big-Whiners? New hoops usually come in the form of unwanted change: health issues, career changes/challenges, death, relationship conflicts, political disruption, retirement, financial challenges, etc.

It is rarely “fun” to jump through new hoops. In fact most people try to avoid them. We certainly don’t need to go out and look for new hoops…they will find us. That was true for those shivering soldiers on the highway and is true for us. If we view unwanted change as hoops and respond to them as opportunities for growth, the rewards have the potential to be significant at any age.

Tim Berry

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