What Elders Really Want, and The Alex and Ronni Show

The Heroism of Elders

I didn't plan it this way but today's post has turned out to be the natural continuance of all this week's previous posts, my two and the Reader Story on Tuesday.

As I of write here, the few news stories about elders, a large number are about those, even 80 and older, who climb mountains, jump out of airplanes, run marathons and otherwise outdo even much younger people at physical challenges.

These super-achieving old people are always portrayed as heroic, as the ideal, and that the rest of us should be out there biking the brutal Tour de France or its equivalent.

The result is, of course, a not-so-subtle pressure for all elders to keep doing, keep achieving and push, push, push ourselves to be like 30- and 40-somethings until we're dead.

What those reporters, young 'uns themselves, don't know is that the old people they are interviewing are the aberration. A large majority of us are quite happy to stick closer to home and take our exercise, and our lives in general, in lighter form.

What important today is that In many cases it is not just a preference, it is all we are capable of. On Wednesday, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, noting that “energy in an arc, and it bends over a lifetime toward depletion”, wrote

”I’m 54 now, and aging is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s also the greatest blessing that I’ve ever been given: I’m not just still around, but I also savor the wisdom of greater perspective and the freedom of letting many of the demands I once made of myself fall by the wayside.

“The hell of aging is limits. But that’s the heaven of it, too. Sometimes to have the parameters of your life shrink is to be unburdened of too many decisions and of indecision itself...” *

All true and it may be the first time I know of that a reporter wasn't giving us the usual “but...” about running at least a half marathon or starting a new business from scratch.

Those limits Bruni mentions? Whether a result of illness or “just” old age, they are impediments even to everyday, ordinary tasks as my most recent mystery malady has made clear.

Without going into detail, it is mostly joint and body pains that come and go and move around my body. An over-the-counter pain killer makes them mostly tolerable but leaves some everyday activities difficult to do.

I can't reach the microwave without a sharp pain in my arm. Getting in and out of bed produces shots of pain from neck to knees. Sometimes my hands hurt so much I can't hold the toothbrush. You get the idea and compared to some I know, I'm doing well.

Yet as difficult as it can be, most old people keep going. Maybe slower, maybe not getting out and about as frequently as they once did and taking more rest breaks but as much as possible, they are doing the things that need getting done along with the pleasures, old and new, they can accommodate.

As Frank Bruni understands, they can “...savor the wisdom of greater perspective and the freedom of letting many of the demands I once made of myself fall by the wayside.”

Yes. Old people know a lot about how unimportant are the things that once seemed crucial. And even as physical demands become more difficult, that “perspective” of which Bruni speaks comes into great play in old age, just when we need it most.

How lucky for us.

It is the patience, creativity and persistence of old people, largely without complaint, that allow them/us to adapt to the one thing that is constant in everyone's life: change. There is just more of it coming at us faster when we are old.

For all that, to me it is not the elder mountain climbers who are heroes to be held up as paragons of old age. It is the majority of old people, the millions who take the lemons life gives us and make the best lemonade we can in our individual circumstance.

They are the ones who deserve our hero worship and hurray to all of us.

* The Frank Bruni quotations are from his weekly, email newsletter which is not yet available online.


Yes! Perfect timing to read your blog, early Friday morning .

I hope I did not sound like I thought all elders should challenge themselves. My post demurring on the general contentment with slowing down, staying home, luxuriating in a life achieved, was not meant to be critical, only my perspective. I certainly understand - my body reminds constantly - that ageing demands accommodation. I have aches and pains and limitations. I never was a marathon runner. But my personal response is to accommodate and move on. Just my approach. Please all the rest of you, enjoy your lives at home!

Huzzah! Couldn't have been said better, Ronnie!

Thank you for the wonderful post (one among many). I have often felt that somedays just getting out of bed, showered and dressed was an event worthy of a metal.

I will be saving the Frank Bruni quotes for those days that are especially hard.

I resonated with this blog having recently blogged myself on this topic. Pat Taub, Portland, Maine

I learned a new word last week ;
applies to this discussion.

I am at the high end of 80-something and I don't have cancer (as far as I know) but I have depressing physical problems almost everywhere one can think of . I must use my walker in the house now. I do try to stick with a reasonable exercise routine but, oh wow, I am stiff.
Walkiing around watering a few plants is often grueling work. For now, the idea of mountain climbing holds no appeal but, if I were one day to attempt it, what a silly photo op it would be !!

So many of us elders are living wonderful lives without feeling we have to be super fantastic, but there is a definite push out there to stand out from the crowd by what we accomplish. At 78, I'm a writer and beginning painter, and I have no desire to vault that into a front page somewhere. I'm challenged, and I'm content. Both because of my elder years and in spite of them.

I love that you are telling the truth about not wanting to live with that eternal (infernal) damn carrot dangling out there in front of our noses.

I enjoy a nice walk, but I feel no compulsion to measure my speed or the number of steps I take, nor do I go when I don’t feel like it. At one time when I was recovering from a stroke that wiped out my reverse gear, I did tai chi to regain my balance. It’s no longer available at the nearby senior center and I don’t want to drive all over hell’s half acre so that’s finished. It was good while it lasted.

Another thing that always bothers me is the constant deluge of health information that promises we will live longer if we do whatever they’re selling. I always imagine myself confined to a dreary nursing home with fake cheerful staff where the highlight of the week is the Lawrence Welk Show. I wonder how grateful I’ll be for that extra year I bought for myself by never eating anything I enjoy.

I agree with everything you said. I think part of the reason that reporters (younger people) want to celebrate the accomplishments of older people is that they fear aging themselves, so want to reassure themselves that, when they are older, they will still be able to do everything they are doing now.

Today my Mt. Everest is making it through the wait until the nurse calls me back with the right antibiotic to treat a UTI that really hurts bad! Three days ago they gave me an antibiotic that clearly didn't work, and the lab test results confirm that. Now I have to find a way to handle the pain while the medical profession churns through their procedures to get it right. Honestly, I don't know how I'm going to last, but I know I will. That's because in my 70's I have lasted through the several scary, painful conditions and their effects.

Unlike a mountain climber, I was not trained in how to persevere in many of the common dilemmas of aging, such as lack of control over prompt medical attention, flagging stamina, endless new physical complaints, and new fears about the risks of living alone. None of these were problems when I was younger. I think anyone over 70 (I'm 78) deserves an honorary PhD for hanging in there and lasting through the hard parts. It's not easy.

I figured on having some aches and pains as I got older, but I did not expect day after day of fairly intense pain from several medical conditions that are not "curable" (eg., degenerative disc disease, a 100% torn rotator cuff, osteoarthritis and scoliosis plus residual damage from 3 back surgeries in my 20s).

I also didn't expect that my physician would be running scared of government overreach and unable/unwilling to prescribe the medication I need to retain a degree of functionality and quality of life. I have no desire or intent to misuse it; I have been compliant with the low dosage of a mild opiate I have taken over a period of years. My records substantiate responsible use. Yet, although the conditions causing the pain continue to worsen, I cannot request stronger medication for fear of being abandoned and cut off completely or being labeled a "drug seeker" and a criminal, as though I'd been busted for buying fentanyl in a back alley.

I had nothing to do with the so-called opioid crisis, but I am definitely collateral damage, as other elders may be as well. It's not that I haven't tried a wide variety of other treatment approaches, including non-pharmacological. I have.

Pain is life-limiting. It saps one's energy, decreases functionality and robs life of joy. It is what it is.

Ronni, I just had a conversation about this very issue...a couple hours ago! I couldn't agree more and couldn't have articulated as beautifully as you did. Thank you, as always. You continue to inspire me! Hugs!

I wish more articles with this perspective were prominent in various media outlets including the popular print publications that attract all ages. Unfortunately, even those stories and articles directed primarily toward our older population often fail to focus on the reality for the vast majority of elders. Thanks for continuing to shed light on these issues in your inimitable style.

Applause for Ronni and all who commented! True dat!

I don't know about the rest of you, but I can't stand to look at the AARP magazine - full of marathon runners and couples who have sex every day. I guess real old age is too depressing for them.

We are all different and always have been. Those of us who deal with chronic pain, chronic illness, or general decrepitude all handle it differently, and as Ronni points out, heroically. I take my hat off to them.

The media's focus on elders who run marathons at 101, swim the English Channel at 95, sky dive for their 105th birthday, and accomplish similar feats are no different than the focus on disabled people who do the same. The young and strong are constantly trying to reassure themselves that *they* will be able to beat the clock, or, if disability came to them that they could "overcome" it. It's all whistling past the graveyard.

The true accomplishment is making peace with your mortality, especially when old age, illness and pain are upon you.

Thank you Ronni, when all around us voices say we must act as if we are 50 years younger to be worthwhile, you allow us to be ourselves - old - and still fully human.

You are right about limitations not of our choice arriving as we age, and so far I am content and happy in this journey. More time to read, visit with friends and family, walk my dog who brings me joy, more time for prayer, these are all good things.

Agree ... we are the unsung heroes who march along and just keep going ... as long as we can keep going, loving our families, taking care of our communities, contributing to others, paying our taxes and staying out of trouble.

I know a 74 yr. old guy who has never, at any age, parachuted from an airplane, run a marathon, set a sprint record, crossed the Atlantic in a dinghy, or climbed anything remotely resembling a mountain. He has, however, recently rebuilt his brick back steps, added custom wooden railings and finished with a 6 X 6 apron of paver blocks. All with a bum knee, a reconstructed shoulder, and naggingly arthritic hands. He also savors sitting and reading, watching the breeze sway the tops of oak trees in his yard, bemoaning together with his wife the disastrous idiocy of the current President, and endlessly flipping through photos of their distant granddaughter. Can the guy get some patronizing news coverage puhleeeease? :-)

The comments to this entry are closed.