These are some thoughts I’ve written down upon meeting and conversing with seasoned citizens in Newton:
My view of elderly folks has changed over the years. When I was young I thought they loved gardening and Rummy-cube because they had to—it was just part of being old. When I became a CNA and worked closely with the elderly I learned that those we call old are very similar to the young. People don’t slowly transform into cardigan wearing, bridge playing, embroidery-sewing old folks. Cardigans were hip when they were my age. They’ve been having bridge nights since they were twenty-five, and embroidery used to be as common as Facebooking. Nearly everything I call “an old person activity” is a young person activity of years past. But more than that, I learned that when you reach old age you don’t magically become kindly, quiet, beneficent, smiley and generally pleasant to be around. You tend to be as kind, grumpy or goofy as you were your entire life. In a skilled care nursing home, just like everywhere else, you have the quiet one, the studious one, the one who talks about no one but him or herself, the casanova, the joker, the musician, the socialite, the gossip, the grump and the drunk.
Of course old age is a different era of life. My grandmother claims, “As you grow older, things become less funny and less sad.” C.S. Lewis said, “Autumn is really the best of the seasons: and I'm not sure that old age isn't the best part of life.” In my reading I find that people either relish their last years or ruin them. John Adams, our second president, was one who aged very well. His beloved wife had died, he was in some pain because of his bad teeth, and he was living alone in their old house; yet he wrote to a friend, “This phrase 'rejoice ever more' shall never be out of my heart, memory, or mouth again as long as I live, if I can help it.” Yet some grow more cantankerous, cynical and prone to squabble—I’ve met a few. Old age seems to be an unparalleled opportunity to weed out the unimportant and live in light of the important. Some do; some don’t.
In the Country near Newton
May 4, 2013