I’m an old dog who continues to learn new tricks. I’m truly thankful every single day for having a mind that is still working relatively well. My knees hurt all day and all night and my bladder is weak, but so far I can still make those little grey cells in my head do their thing. it’s a blessing to maintain my ability to think clearly that I tend to believe I inherited from my paternal grandfather and seemingly from my mother’s side of the family as well.

My Grandpa was still reading massive biographies and quoting them when he was one hundred eight. When he ultimately lost the clarity of his mind it was painful to watch because he had indeed been so wise and brilliant for all of the time I had known him. His clouded thinking came on rather suddenly after an unexpected illness. For the last few months of his life he no longer seemed to understand where he was or why certain things were happening to him. He became like a confused and frightened child. Luckily his pain did not last too long. He was spared the horror of living in a dazed condition for years.

The old adage is that the mind is a terrible thing to waste, but it is also a terrible thing to lose. The confusion that results from diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia steal the joy from both those who are afflicted and those who care for them. The journey into loss of memory or understanding can be terrifying for everyone concerned. Whereas my grandfather had the good sense to stop driving his car when he was in his nineties, those whose minds become confused often insist on being allowed to do things that are dangerous for them and those around them. It becomes a battle of wills to reason with them.

There is still a great deal to learn about the brain and how it works or fails to work. We don’t yet have the understanding that we need to reverse the effects of aging or diseases of the brain other than rudimentary ideas. One of those is to keep the mind active. Just as with exercise for the body, continuing to challenge the mind is essential for good health. Reading, writing and even “ciphering” as my Grandpa called it keeps things working as long as they have not been affected by disease. It’s important to challenge ourselves by continuing to learn just as we might push to tone our bodies.

I was a mathematics teacher by profession but I never taught anything past Algebra II. As a result I recall little or nothing about the more advanced courses that I took when I was still in my teens. Back in the day we had Trigonometry courses but Pre Calculus was not a thing. Even our Calculus offerings were rather sparse compared with what students learn in today’s classrooms. The acceleration of learning for modern day students is awesome but also somewhat unimaginable for those of us who learned “back in the day.”

I do a great deal of mathematics tutoring. I feel quite comfortable working with students in Algebra I, Algebra II and Geometry, but I begin to lose my confidence with Pre Calculus and Calculus because it has been more than fifty years since I mastered the material in those subjects and in some cases the information in those courses goes far beyond what I learned in the long ago. For that reason I have shied away from working with students who struggle in those areas, preferring to stick with what I really know and understand.

Recently I’ve been called upon to help one of my grandsons with his Pre AP Pre Calculus class. I have literally been studying mathematics every single day for weeks now, learning the concepts in tandem with him. Fortunately there are instructional videos on virtually every topic known to mankind that I can watch on my laptop. I’ve managed to rebuild the structures in my brain that had gone to rot from neglect and to stretch my knowledge to places that my brain had never before ventured. It’s been both a challenge and a pleasure to realize that I am still quite capable of pushing my mind beyond what I already know. In many ways I feel younger and more excited about life than I have in quite some time.

I’ve always found comfort in the process of learning. Often it has not come easily to me but it has been a most enjoyable pursuit. I am passionate about reading and writing and a bit proud that I also have a fairly good understanding of mathematics, or at least an ability to learn what I do not yet know. It’s been fun to work alongside my grandson and to accomplish something of which I was initially afraid.

We humans are truly remarkable creatures. We have the ability to remold ourselves in both mind and body, but doing those things takes effort. We can’t just sit back and hope that the fat in our bellies will miraculously go away or the dust in our brains will disappear. All good things associated with improvement take hard work and that is a fact. The successful folks among us were rarely just born that way. They have had to consciously strive to better themselves. That’s why the person who loses fifty pounds is so proud, or the individual who masters a knew concept literally glows with a sense of accomplishment.

Life is filled with one challenge after another. Our need to push ourselves never really ends. We can make our bodies and our minds stronger but we have to work at it. There is no rest for the weary, but we can make our efforts fun with the right attitudes. Carving the pounds from our bodies or filling our minds with knowledge can be enjoyable pursuits. Pushing ourselves just a wee bit more is not just amazing. It is truly good for us.


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