Amazingly, I reached my 78th birthday on Friday September 17 2010. Considering the fact that I thought I was going to die in the fifth grade when I was out of school nearly four months with complications from chicken pox, and that I have had virtually every fatal malady known to man since then, becoming 78 was miraculous. Here are some thoughts and pontifications on reaching this milestone in life.
First of all, I am extremely irritated, while at the same time pleased, at lasting this long. I was always the youngest at everything most of my life--graduate from high school, from college, master's degree, teaching college at 21, in the Michigan economics Ph.D. program at 24, youngest full professor, 26 when appointed director of the Wyoming Legislative Council, etc. Now that I am old, none of this makes a shred of difference. Now my only accomplishment is that I have outlived some people who I thought were far healthier than I am. Old people have all reached the same common denominator. It mattereth not whether they were a captain of industry, a leader of legions, a wealthy capitalist, or a poor person living in poverty. We are all in the same boat. That is, we are all wondering how much longer we will live and whether we will go quietly, with dignity and perseverance and a gentle smile, or whether we will, like I imagine myself, go whining and complaining all the way. Depending on whether we write our own obits or not, we could go peacefully and heroically or cowardly and angry.
Meanwhile, the major topics of conversation are colonoscopies, endoscopies, stents, bypasses, PSA counts, gall bladders, ulcers, replacements of knees and hips and shoulders, spinal stenosis, arthritis, pain, misery, dental implants, oral surgeries, Medicare, Medicaid, health insurance or lack thereof, and every other ailment known to medicine. Nothing like an intimate comparison of colonoscopies to enliven one's dinner hour.
There are some advantages to being of advanced age, though I refuse to call these years the golden years. One advantage is that you know stuff for crossword puzzles that young folks under 50 or 60 don't have a clue about. Another thing is that you have pretty much been there, done that. One of the best advantages is seeing what happens as your posterity continues to grow and expand like an MLM with no further effort on your part except keeping up with the birthdays and Christmases and baptisms and weddings and LDS missions and graduations and new babies and moves. Another advantage is being able to pursue interests other than those that permeated your career, whatever that was. When I retired 10 years ago, I thought I would continue to write about economics. As it turned out, I take pictures of flowers and post sarcastic (but utterly true and valid) remarks on blogs. I still read economics, but I am so appalled at the density of voters and politicians on lack of understanding of economic principles that I wonder why even bother trying to teach a precious few about the difference between supply and demand and why it takes a few years to recover from a major economic disaster. As in the 10 years and more that it took ultimately to recover from the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Then, I have come to understand that old people know much less than 10 year olds when it comes to computers, texting, Blackberries, video games, blogging, facebooking, twittering, and the like. "Ask your grandson, or ask your granddaughter" are often repeated solutions to technological problems. Today's kids are so technologically prescient and competent, that I wonder why we are not turning out more people with brighter ideas about how we can change our economic and political systems for the better instead of carping over long dead horses, still inflicting them with more punishment long after they have expired.
Old people do lots of good things, like volunteer at hospitals, prisons, low income neighborhoods, sit with sick people, tend grandkids, go on humanitarian missions, help neighbors, tutor school kids, and a million other things. I can't say that I have done anything useful since I retired. I hope that perhaps the thousands of cheerful flowers I have posted might have brought a smile or two to a few thousand blog readers along the way. Being old is not all misery and it is not all easy and comfortable. But there is something about life, and family, and nature that makes us feel that life is worth hanging on to for as long as we can. In the process, we hope we are not making ourselves a nuisance and do, in fact, provide some encouragement and cheer along the way that provides a lasting impression to those around us.