The Age of Adaptation

Thomas L. Petty, M.D.

Professor of Medicine, 
University of Colorado

Chairman, National Lung Health Education Program (NLHEP)


National Lung Health Education Program
A collaborative project with



HealthOne Center
1850 High Street
Denver, CO 80218
Phone: 303 839 6755
Fax: 303 832 8137


January 1996
PEP Pioneers
Second Wind
Torrance, California

Dear Friends,

     I marveled at the imagination of three year-olds at my granddaughter’s birthday party yesterday.  The games the children played were based both on tangible objects and their unbounded view of fun and imagination; the merriment they provided was infectious.  As I sipped a cup of imaginary tea, I wondered how these tiny dynamos could grow and adapt to an ever-increasing, complex society.  Since they all possess health, vigor, and little concept of tomorrow, I saw them playing in the present where it is best to live.

     And then early this morning, just at daybreak, I saw an old woman walking briskly across the street.  She was stooped, gray, and wrinkled, but the pace of her step, the smile, and the twinkle in her eye as she looked at me, told me that she was still young.  What trials and tribulations she faced in her life were not revealed.  She was nicely dressed and in a hurry to get somewhere.  She, of course, was age three many years ago, and now in her 80s or 90s (as I estimated) she might be in a “second childhood”.  This misused term, sadly referring to anything ranging from mild dementia to the impacting term, “senility”, need not be true.  I know of so many octogenarians who today are more creative with the passage of time than ever before in their lives.  Now in charge of their own daily timetable, and unencumbered by the restrictions in a younger time of family and business obligations, they can enjoy the luxury of an imagination now built on the scaffolding of years of experience.  When unleashed from conventional thinking, the imagination of the child can often be reborn.  This is why I advise everyone to recall and relive their childhood to gain clues about adaptation to today and tomorrow.

     Reestablishing contacts with childhood friends is an example of how time can stand still, even though the calendar says otherwise.

     Everyone will finally get to the end of the book to find out all that finally happened, but the book can be much longer than you can ever predict.  The exciting chapters which lie ahead offer a unique adventure for us all.  Age is only a failure of adaptation; with the adventurous spirit of the child, at any time in life there is no age at all.

     With all the best for 1996, I’ll be in touch next month.

Sincerely yours,

   Thomas Petty, MD

Last update:
14 March 2002