18 Years Ago Today Since 9/11
INTERESTING STUFF – 14 September 2019

Living Large in Old Age

“What's new?” asked an old friend in an email filling me in on his latest adventures.

I was stumped, unable to think of anything new (which is probably good news for someone with cancer but not what my friend meant). I would need to think about it for awhile and in doing so, I made a list of what it is I actually do during a given week or so.

And no, I'm not going to copy out that list here. On its face, it's boring but after spending some time thinking about it, I changed my mind. Let me explain.

Among what generally passes for public thinking about life in old age are such platitudes as, “It's not the years in your life that count, but the life in your years.”

Yeah, yeah. People designated as old-age experts say things like that. They also write things like this from the U.S. National Institutes of Health website:

”Quality of life (QOL) is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as 'individuals' perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards, and concerns.'”

Whatever that means. Plus, there is always some version of the five things (or eight or 10 or any other number) people should do to make an elder's life better:

Monitor and treat depression
Remind seniors that they are useful and needed
Encourage physical activity
Encourage mental activity
Keep them connected

Did you notice that all five are things someone is supposed to do to improve the lives of old people who, it is implied, cannot can't work this out on their own.

That is so for some elders but most of us can and there is little information to be found about old people who are not deemed deficient in one or more of the categories on that five-point list.

This happens because even among agencies and organizations whose goal is to help elders, too often there is an attitude of “If you've seen one old person, you've seen them all.”

Puh-leeze. One size does not fit all.

Nevertheless, old people are seen mostly as homogeneous, particularly when care-giving and government policy are being considered, and that filters out to everyone else.

Add to that how we become when we get old: most of us walk more slowly, we don't stay out late at night much, some of us nap more frequently and we all look the same to younger people. Just like high school – it's all about appearance.

Because of my newly diagnosed COPD, I don't do stairs anymore, I don't walk as fast or as far as I once did. I doubt I'll ever get on an airplane again. I won't drive on highways these days and I don't much like driving to new places. I don't recall last time I had dinner with friends. I can't stay awake that late so I do lunch dates instead.

And if that's all younger people know about an old person, it's a good description of a small, gray, little life. But wait.

With a book of contemporaneous maps and a marvelous book about the street (Broadway: A History of New York City in Thirteen Miles), I “walked” the entire length of world-famous Broadway from its beginnings in 1624 to the present day.

How's that for an exciting trip. I'm sure from the outside I looked like any old woman reading a book – well, in this case, two books. From the inside, I was thrilled to “see” the shops as they closed down and moved a few blocks north each time the center of Broadway gravity relocated farther uptown, and to recall which buildings are still there, buildings I have walked past or been in.

I'm currently watching a Netflix drama series about the 1970s beginnings of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit (BSU), now renamed the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), as in the Criminal Minds TV series.

There are a lot of fascinating ideas, well fleshed out, about what commonalities serial killers sometimes share and if you have any wit about you, you will glean some important information about people who are not serial killers - like you and me, for example.

I regularly spend at least an hour, often stretching to two or three hours at a time, talking on the phone with friends who live far away. I can wish I were in-person with them but circumstances of life change possibilities so I do the best I can – which works out fine.

These chats are deeply nourishing to me – an old (and one new) friend's voice in my ear; news of mutual friends; in one case, an ongoing discussion on the nature of Manhattan and how it has been changing; not to mention what we have learned from books we've been reading; movies; the nature of life in general, growing old in particular. And so on.

And, of course, I write this blog. I work on it every day, for hours.

In one way, TimeGoesBy is like a journal - I can flip through past posts and see what I was thinking in the past. But in a much larger sense it is a community. There is an amazing group of smart, interesting, funny and thoughtful people who comment here.

Readers say they learn from me, but they are teachers too. I learn at least as much as they do, and many blog posts grow out of ideas readers have written in the comments. Through readers who comment, I expand my vision to the whole world.

Is this a “small, gray, little life?” I sure don't think so.

I'm doing at least as much as I did before I got old. It's just that more of it takes place in my mind, and from the outside maybe it doesn't look like much.

But I think my life is bright and shiny, full of light and color and with all that, I'm livin' large.

How about you?


Oh, gosh, yes. It seems to me that "livin' large" is about how a life is lived. There's always something new to get excited about...at least, if you're lucky enough to be able to get excited. I grew up with my father quoting whoever it was that said, "The world is so full of a number of things/I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings." (This, of course, assumes a person isn't crippled by depression or the like.)
If I had to sum it up, it's about continuing to learn, and to wonder in both senses: to question and to be awed.

I've always loved this quote (you probably know it) from "The Once and Future King."

"...learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it.
That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting."

I agree 100%. I have so much going on I am thrilled to see a blank day in my calendar. I live with 250 other old people. Most of us have enlightening topics of conversation at dinner but a few choose to spend their meal complaining about the food. In the past I had many traveling adventures but now my adventures are about learning something new.

72 next month. I can almost see the decline in the mirror daily now, but so far so good and, yes I am living large. Planning Spain, Italy, and Greek Isles trip in 2020. Booked flights and hotels already. Having travel in my future makes me happy. Living large so far. It will end. But not yet. By the way, my hobbies are financial management--has to be to support travel--and happy hours.
I whistle past the graveyard. Ronnie's joy in living is evident. Perhaps we have more in common than meets the eye :)

I love your trip down Broadway! Would you mind sharing the name of the map book? I’d like to take that journey too.

Thank you Mary Jamison for that wonderful quote! I am posting it on the wall above my computer, and adding it to the bulletin board in our local OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) for others to enjoy!!

Once again, right on target, Ronni! Today, after 3 hardly-any-sleep nights, I don't have anything that would be exciting to a younger, springier person. But I made a delicious, healthy breakfast, read a chapter or two of Kent Nerburn's "Neither Wolf Nor Dog, a must read if you're interested in Native American/white dialogue.
Then out to fill the bird feeder, where I saw a mysterious large ground bird before it took off. Next, with my small dog in arms, I climbed my "star tower," an old construction high off the ground where you can lie and look at the sky, stars, fields and woods, did a short meditation. Do I wish I felt better today, and am I, once again, working the no sleep challenge? You bet. At the same time, all the aforementioned moments are rich for me, nourishing, sweet and real.

Oh I so agree. I've never commented before but this one really hit me as I navigate the reality of my age and the natural deterioration of mind and body. Accomplishing this transition with Grace is my goal and not always pretty. You are definitely a role model for those of us are looking up that road.

Living large is an attitude that you give your readers. In good times and bad it is on each of us to make the most of our situations. I admit to waiting for others or some thing to make me happy at times. What really works though is the attitude with which you approach the good and bad times.

This is the most uplifting description of life as an older person that I have ever heard! Thanks, Ronni, for your positive outlook and for sharing with us.

The less time as I see as my future the more I love life. I am 84 years old, in decent health with a few extra bucks in my pocket. I married, raised 5 great children, and now can sit back and enjoy a life that is much easier.

I've downsized to a small but pretty townhouse with neighbors my age and someone else to take care of lawn and snow shoveling. I have the time to read all the books I want with a small, charming library close by.

In my later years I traveled quite a bit and satisfied the wanderlust I once felt.

I am enjoying a relatively stress free life which is quiet but satisfying. What more could I ask but maybe a bit more time. Don't we all wish that.

As you say Ronnie “Puh-leeze. One size does not fit all.” You demonstrate this by being socially active with your friends and your blog even with your health issues. You do live ‘large.’ Writing your blog itself is quite an achievement of imagination, strength, research and philosophy – you help so many of us readers.
We all know people of our age that are totally different from us – vive la difference! I do believe though that this age discrimination is more pronounced in the US because of its culture, youth obsession and terror of getting old. I just read in a French article that only 2% of young American men think that 60 is a good age. Also because of television and other US stereotypes US children : “67 % des enfants americains considèrent les âgés comme « impotents, passifs et incapables de s’occuper d’eux-mêmes » translates as “67% of American children view older adults as "helpless, passive and unable to care for themselves .“ We need to start changing this US attitude with the cradle. ..

Still on my feet at 77. I have COPD, an irregular heartbeat and clogging arteries. A fix is in the works. I cannot walk more than a third of a block without stopping for awhile. I would need oxygen to take a plane but traveling by air lost it's charm for me quite awhile ago. I still love driving for miles.

Calendar? Jammed. Nine grandkids, several of whom spend lots of time with me creating things (I have an art degree), going to the library (English minor) and having our own little book club. Much to my surprise I've discovered many young adult authors are quite good. I'm film fan, especially foreign films. After watching "Mister Sunshine" on Netflix, I'm delving South Korean films currently as well as reading about that country's rich history. I have nearly as many DVD's as I have books. I'm in an exercise rehab twice a week, forever. I still drive so I take myself a few miles outside of our rural town and fill my heart, mind, sketchbook and phone camera with the great outdoors. It's safe enough as I have a cell phone and AAA. Both my grandmothers made it to nearly 90 with the same problems and without the medical care or adequate dollars that I have had so far.

I'm a bit of an introvert but not unsocial and have actually have less time alone than I used too. When I feel crowded I remember how quickly those grandkids take flight, several have already, and how many old friends have died so I go visit or call. All and all it's better than I anticipated.

Ronni, I loved reading your piece this morning. I've survived two different bouts of cancer and feel I understand more about some of the phases of your treatment than others. I have always felt we're in sync since I'm a New Yorker, as well. A year apart in age. Divorced from first husband, etc. So.. .today I take my hat off to you for your "joy of life." If I knew how to spell it in French correctly, I would have written it. Your light shines through everything. I feel as you do.. almost not enough time to do everything I enjoy. Admittedly, there are days I feel somewhat off but then I bounce right back up, dust myself off, and start all over again. I repeat: I'm so glad I discovered your blog. Warmest wishes.

Another great blog, Ronni, and ever-interesting comments.

Absolutely loved this! Thanks for being such an inspiration to so many.

Today's blog and all the ensuing comments made my day!!! Here's to a life well lived! Huzzah!!

Absolutely, this is not a "grey little life" it's full of challenges, lessons, attitude changes, and memories.

Especially lessons. I have to admit that a summer spent not walking, not exercising, not eating properly(!) and drinking too much wine have wrought the results to be expected: overweight, high blood pressure, and disgust. And yet, still, I am a contented person who now has a challenge, a few actually.

First to keep off as many pills as possible therefore walking, exercising and eating Properly! Secondly, pay attention to my Lungs and COPD, keep up with breathing exercises.

And then, one glass of wine a day.

I fell into my bathtub the other evening after an afternoon of wine and one too strong cocktail. I fell backwards onto my rear end, luckily not my tailbone, and extremely lucky not to have dislodged my already fractured vertebra.

So two major lessons - Well one, really PAY ATTENTION you silly eejit (Irish for idiot).

Love you Ronni
Your blog saves me.

I am thoroughly disgusted by the continuing assumption that if you have seen or know one older person, you have seen and know them all!! Recently, in a pre surgical conference with my surgeon, he rolled his chair up to me and said "I'm going to talk to you the same way I talk to my grandmother". I know he meant well. He wanted to " connect". BUT he is clueless!! He doesn't know me. For starters, I am a solo ager, which is very different from beloved grandmother. I explained. Perhaps he learned something about his older patients. I hope so.

I’m new to your blog and feeling lucky to have found it. Loved this post, plus the comments. Thanks all.

Great post, great comments. I can't say I'm there yet--wherever "there" may be. I enjoy reading and activities of the mind, but I miss being able to DO things. My soon-to-be 90 Y/O spouse is WAY ahead of me in the art of ageing. It is what it is.


The map book is "Manhattan in Maps 1527-2014". One of the authors is Robert T. Augustyn.

I am Very Unlikely to ever watch anything on serial killers, so am very curious as to the lessons about the rest of us, but will have to stay curious, probably... but hey, staying curious is staying alive, right?

Ronni, I loved today's post even more than most. It struck home. I'm 76, alone (widow, no children), with my aging dog and four living siblings to laugh with both in person and by phone--even text and email. Health problems have made me feel so limited in what I can do that lately I've been wondering if this even is life. But you got me thinking, and I realize that, yes, I'm still living large in many respects. I need to call my friends more often, though. Thank you, Ronnie, for all of your postings and the comments that you elicit.

So, you are all enjoying your old age. Absolutely nothing said by anyone here applies to aging dementia patients. My Alzheimer's husband has not been able to learn anything for the last six years, and loses more cognitive abilities every week. In addition he has a bad back, is in constant pain, takes pain medications that cause constipation and is gradually losing the ability to walk. I have to monitor him 24/7, including his bathroom activities and I can tell you my life is not enjoyable or upbeat. So why don't you all stop bragging about how upbeat your aging process is. I have to go now and try to help him walk to the bathroom for the sixth time in five hours and monitor the outcome. So pardon my attitude.

Thank you for the info on the map book!

Finally got a chance to sit with TGB after a busy morning. It's been a rough few days but today's blog and comments gave me hope again. It really is about "living large" to the best of our ability.
I was feeling great until I read Cassandra's comment. My heart goes out to her for the pain, frustration, sadness, anger etc she is feeling. Been there done that. But whatever I'm feeling, I need to remind myself that my husband is suffering more than I am and it's not his fault. In sickness and in health. May you find peace within yourself.

You have said what I keep saying, but so much more clearly because of the personal detail. This post should be a resource for all of us. Brilliant, incisive, true to the bone.

I loved this post and I live the same way, but I did want to comment on airplanes. At least with Southwest, disabled (or slightly) are treated like royalty. One goes to the baggage drop-off and asks for a wheelchair - or when you make the reservations. You are carted through strange airports to just where you need to be and then are placed in front of the line for boarding. With Southwest there are no reserved seats, so one also gets choice seating. When you get off the plane, a wheelchair is waiting also. Except for the seating, I'm sure it's the same with all the large airlines. It's a great experience!

I kind of like living small. As long as I can live large in my head

I found your wonderful blog a couple of months ago and I look forward to it..I think your writing is spot on about age and age ing...I love the pictures at the top ..they remind me of our ever changing selves...thank you

I get really tired of all the 'expert' opinions on how we should live our lives in our older years. And maybe more olders should write their own accounts of what makes life meaningful and enjoyable to them. I recently finished a book by an expert that did have a very sensitive way of writing about older people, 'Elderhood' by Dr. Louise Aronson. It is quite a meaty book with lots of food for thought.

You make some pertinent points with which I couldn’t agree more. I especially resonate with the observation that so many lists of how to help elders do imply we are incapable of figuring out how to enrich our lives based on our own needs and preferences.

Those of us aging are like any other labeled group, people often have stereotyped ideas of what everyone in that group is like. The reality is we may have similarities but we each are quite unique in what fulfills our life in varying circumstances. This is why I dislike how labels are often used with assumptions made about all aspects of our lives (many false), often based on one or a few known factors.

IMHO, Charlene Dahl hits the nail on the head - living small, physically, while living large, mentally is where it's at for me.

Too many are faced with the physical/mental strain of caring for a loved one (or loved ones) who need constant care - either now or in the future.

Personally, I couldn't fulfill the ambition of living large because of the effects on our planet. Instead, I choose to invest the money in endowed scholarships to help future generations live large mentally.

Ronni, you are doing a damn good job with your life and blog. I love your chats with Alex.

100% right there is no such thing as "one size fits all" seniors. Lumping us all into a herd is just an easy way out for fashion, living, eating, learning, health ads.

We are in Rome, a city we last visited 35 years ago. This time we are on our own, using trains, feet, metro and bus to sites.

Thirty five years later we are good travellers.

Older, wiser in comfortable shooz.

All the better to kick ass in.

Some trips are only in my mind,butjust ten days back,I visited Western Canada with my portable oxygen concentrator for company--I was leaning towards living large and now your post has affirmed it .Thank you

Cassandra, I am so sorry for your situation--and your husband's, too. Alzheimer's is a god-awful disease, and I SO hope I don't live long enough to develop it. Reading your post made me reconsider how very fortunate my husband (90 in November) and I (83 in January) are to still have most of our marbles, at least the necessary ones.

Personally, I find that "living large" in old age while dealing with daily, ongoing physical pain is a significant challenge. Thanks mostly to 20-somethings who overdosed on illicit opioids used recreationally, our omniscient government cracked down--on chronic pain patients, many of whom are 60+, and their physicians. DEA raids on doctors' offices haven't done much to reduce overdoses among 20-somethings from heroin and fentanyl, but they have without question had an impact on patients who have used prescribed pain medications responsibly for years.

I can no longer do so much of what I once took for granted and enjoyed, like volunteering, gardening and long walks. I still walk most days but it's just another chore now, not a pleasure. Fortunately, I can still manage the essentials including grocery shopping, basic home upkeep and kitty care.

So. . . yes, sometimes it's hard to keep up that ol' Positive Attitude, and I've got to hand it to Ronni, you and others in situations far more challenging than mine. I hope you have some help in coping with your situation.

I like the living small, but large in your head approach. I’m a widow, no children, still in good health at 72 and I live in Fla., so there are a lot of people my age, which has its pros and cons, but I love the weather.

I would love to travel, but no one to go with and I don’t like regimented tours, although one company, Road Scholar, could be a good choice.

I paint, garden a bit, go out to dinner a lot with a few friends for food and wine and follow and comment on many blogs. That is my life and I’m fine with that.

I had a long marriage, but now prefer my freedom and less stressful life. (It wasn’t all roses.)

The only thing I do lack is finding people who enjoy intellectual conversations and who are progressive in their views and liberal in their politics. Seems the older generation can be stuck in the past a bit. But I do have those few friends like me.

I have my affairs in as much order as I can, now, and hopefully I can live in this home, I love, for many years yet. I will find a way not to ever go into a nursing home.

I make lists of things to do or accomplish, but my rule is no list beyond 6 months. I try to stop myself, if I wander into farther out times.

Thank you Ronni. Just a deep heartfelt thank you.

The comments to this entry are closed.