“We are all born ignorant, but one must work very hard to remain stupid.”

Ben Franklin


By Dr. Jim Ferguson

You have heard the adage that getting older is not for sissies. Notice that I used “older” rather than “old” because it best describes a calculus rather than an absolute. Calculus is the mathematical study of change. I am getting older (thank God!), but I am not yet old.

Reportedly, country music star Toby Keith was so inspired by nonagenarian Clint Eastwood that he wrote the song, “Don’t let the Old Man In.” The YouTube music video is a must. It’s OK if you have to get a youngster to play the video for you on their device. You’ll impart some wisdom to the youngster who may not yet “comprehend” what they’re seeing, but you will.

In my seventy-first trip around the sun, I am learning to adapt to the inevitable changes of aging. As a kid, I had aches and pains, but I remember them as short-lived, like the stone bruise on my heel I dealt with one summer after stepping on a rock while barefooted. Three years ago I traded my aged truck for a new model because the clunks and squeaks became increasingly worrisome. However, wearing shoes does not correct the creaks and groans of my seventy-year-old chassis and I can’t get a trade-in.

We have boycotted baseball until The World Series playoffs, but now we are cheering for the Atlanta Braves. And as John Ward famously averred, “It’s football time in Tennessee,” so we watch and cheer for our Vols. If you’ve ever watched pregame rituals, you probably noticed athletes stretching and exercising to “warm up” before the game starts. A similar ritual takes place in the Ferguson household each morning as Becky and I get ready for the day. Stretching “older” bodies has become a necessary ritual for us.

Without getting lost in the weeds of physiology, suffice it to say muscles need to be stretched for optimum performance. Signaling takes place between muscles and the spinal cord to achieve an optimal muscle fiber length. Have you ever awakened stiff in the morning and discovered stretching lessens the discomfort? Physiologically, you are aiding optimal muscle fiber length by stretching. And while your reward might not be a touchdown pass, the bonus is improved flexibility and less discomfort. However, you can overdo it. Overzealous workouts at the gym can cause injury. I have told many patients that elliptical machines may not be for everyone. Heart muscle fibers can become overstretched as well. In congestive heart failure, Doctors use diuretics to reduce excessive fluid and return overstretched muscle fibers to more optimum performance.

As an internist and geriatrician, I am frequently asked by older folks about constipation. It turns out that the same physiology is operative in the gut as in back muscles and the heart. I have never made a study of other cultures, but a Western diet often has insufficient roughage and fiber. These dietary constituents pull fluid into the gut lumen and thereby expand the gut to optimize the muscle fiber stretch. I doubt constipation would be a problem if you were eating a stalk of bananas daily. On a more practical note, using psyllium (Metamucil and others) daily, not only improves constipation, it helps lower cholesterol and helps irritable bowel syndrome.

An optometrist friend recently told me that he is seeing more children needing glasses, more people complaining of dry eyes and accelerated nearsightedness in workers with heavy screen time. Apparently, eye muscle strain occurs when using devices. Normally, we blink every 3-4 seconds, spreading lubricating tears, but much less often when entranced by interesting screen content. As an aside, very frequent blinking is a telltale sign of anxiety – or perhaps duplicity?

What happens when your mind is no longer “stretched” or your preconceived notions are never challenged? Education is designed to give the fundamentals for learning such as reading, writing and arithmetic. In antiquity, rhetoric (speaking persuasively), grammar (speaking and writing properly) and logic were the key components of education known as the trivium. Additionally, the quadrivium of math, geometry, music and astronomy were parts of a “classical” education and paved the way to advanced studies of philosophy and theology.

How can you educate a woke “snowflake” who has to go to a “safe zone of thought” when they encounter a controversial opinion? How can a contentious issue be decided by logical debate if one side is excluded or denigrated by personal, ad hominem attacks? Such is the state of many college campuses and is flagrant in the pseudo “news” industry and the social media oligarchies of Facebook, Twitter and Google platforms. Education has become indoctrination. And the so-called news and social media have become little more than influencers and agents of orthodox misinformation.

If open borders, tax and ruinous spending, inflation and rising gas prices, foreign policy disasters and intelligence debacles, scarcity of food and materials, face masks (and I could go on) are so good, why are they not embraced by John Q Public? And if progressive socialist Democrats are so enlightened and their positions so noble, why are the counterarguments suppressed and ridiculed? Why must iPOTUS resort to a cudgel instead of a carrot? I’ll tell you why we cannot have a debate on policies: The left would lose. Therefore, they resort to manipulation, denigration and obfuscation through their media propagandists and toady politicians.

Humans have shown the ability to adapt. I was never a math whiz like my mechanical engineer father, but I did well enough in a science-based curriculum where physics was required. And for a long time, I’ve been interested in the concept of entropy, a physics principle simply defined as energy systems run down. As a result, spinning tops slow down and topple over. We’d really get in the weeds if I told you entropy was the reason time advances rather than regresses. I’ll deal with that in my next novel of the Stellar Trilogy.

In my opinion, Biblical stories introduce tough questions for us to wrestle within our hearts and minds. Such is the story of manna in Exodus translated as “what is it?” For me, the debate over a miraculous “bread of heaven” is less important than the lesson that we must seek God’s daily bread and resist spiritual entropy. We must adapt our lives to seek the Master daily or perish.