“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?