Last weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting a tall, well-dressed man with cochlear implants who happens to live in apartment complex for senior citizens in Rochester, the Golden City of Healing made famous by the Mayo brothers. It is not an exaggeration to say that I was instantly smitten by this bionic man who, I was told, still golfs when the weather is good. Oh. Did I mention that he is in his nineties? And that he didn’t look a day past seventy? I have been thinking a lot about him ever since and thinking about what it means to grow old in 2015. I’m not talking about the “They’re throwing a retirement party for me” type of old, or even “Wow! I’m 75 now!” old. Nope, I’m talking about the “Well, what do you know? I’m 90 years old and I actually woke up again this morning!” kind of old. That old.
In my grandparents’ time, it was almost unheard of for a person to live past the age of 90, and equally rare for the senior citizens in a family to live anywhere but with their grown children or other relatives who were there to help them navigate the inevitable twists and turns that come with aging. Things have changed. More and more senior citizens are living alone well into their eighth or even ninth decade of life. Often, it’s a choice to remain independent as long as possible and sometimes, it’s more the miles, careers, and responsibilities of sons and daughters they raised that have older people going solo the day the struggle bus for seniors makes a stop outside their door and toots the horn. This takes a special type of bravery, as far as I’m concerned.
And so, when I meet someone in an assisted living facility or senior high rise or nursing home who has made the best of things despite this, waves the bus past and chooses to continue walking with a spring in his step like my golfing friend, I will admit that I get a little gushy and star-struck. Mainly because I admire the courage that it takes to meet each new day as it comes with grace and good humor. It makes me want to stop and talk to him, find out his secret, and then file it away for future reference.
Maybe, at any age, it is choosing to focus on your blessings instead of your aches and pains. Or spending time with the friends you still have left or finding a way to be useful to someone, anyone, each day. Maybe it’s marveling over the fact that you can still hear, or see, or pee, or walk thanks to medicine and technology and those smart, young wizards at “The Clinic” downtown. Maybe it’s being braver than you ever thought you’d have to be and continuing to walk rather than take the bus even when it hurts.
Or, maybe, on a gloomy January day when even the artificial Christmas tree in the lobby looks tired and ready to be put away, it is nothing more than believing in the possibility of one more June morning when you know that there’s a tee time with your name penciled in next to it. A fine, soft, day when you’re pretty sure that the birds are singing softly, and your buddies are flirting with the pretty little gal in the snack shack next to the ninth hole and you’re right there, riding in a golf cart with the sun warming your back.
Maybe when it comes down to it, it really is as simple, and as complex, as that.