Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Don’t Act Your Age

A recent Associate Press article described the scene where a 73-year-old woman was killed by a car, noting, “The SUV was driven by an elderly man.”

What exactly did the reporter mean by "elderly"?

When I was in my fifties, I taught writing classes and I would send my students into downtown San Jose, observe people, write about those observations, and then read them to the class. One twenty-year-old woman wrote, “At the bus stop, an elderly man sat reading a newspaper.”

I asked her what did she mean by the word “elderly.” She quickly replied, “He was about fifty,” and I cringed.

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines “elderly” as “Rather old; especially being past middle age.  “Middle age” was defined as “the period of life from about 45 to 64, and “old age” was described as “The latter part of normal life. The last period of human life, the years after 65.” Another source described “old age” as being “senescence, in human beings, the final stage of the normal life span.”

According to Social Security Online, I learned that I have an additional life expectancy of 9.7 years, and I should live to be eighty-eight. There was no accompanying guarantee, written or implied.

When I attended the 60th anniversary of my high school graduation last July, many fellow graduates remarked that they soon would be eighty. Several members of the planning committee said we shouldn’t wait until our 70th anniversary in 2023, for who knows who will be around then. They were thinking about having another reunion in 2018, instead.

There’s no guarantee who will be around then, or who will be around next week.

What may be more important than how long you live is how well you live, and perhaps that corresponds to not acting your age. Keep on doing what gives you pleasure, not following what is written by “experts” who proclaim what you should be doing at any stage of your life, and also what you should stop doing.

My dear cousin Edith Tarjan, a Holocaust survivor, worked until she lost her job at the age of ninety-three. Edith just died in Australia at the age of ninety-nine while working in her garden.

I regularly call friends and relatives around the world who are beyond middle age. One 86-year-old-friend regularly hops on rapid transit in Hayward, California to watch plays across the Bay in San Francisco.  A cousin in Florida regularly publishes a blog; she will be ninety in July. Another younger cousin in Idaho who is eighty-three, acts and regularly directs plays. My good friend Fishl, is a leading authority on Yiddish, publishes a monthly, sixteen-page newsletter, has a fantastic website, and is now eighty-seven.

As a relatively younger, seventy-eight-year-old, I try and play table tennis three times a week, just joined a Saturday table tennis league in San Jose thirty-five miles away, and plan to play in several table tennis tournaments this year in California, Nevada. Utah and Michigan. My warm-up partner is my soon-to-be 70-year-old wife Carmen, a mere youngster. There are older players around who can beat me badly.

Occasionally, I enjoy playing those who are much younger, and try to beat them psychologically before we play a match. Last Saturday, I was facing a thirteen-year-old and beforehand, I said, “Wouldn’t it be embarrassing to lose to a man six times your age?” Apparently it didn’t disturb him enough, for he beat me in the fifth and final game 11 to 9. He was still fresh, while I was pleased that he won, or else I would have had to try and play another match.

It’s best to keep on doing what you enjoy doing for as long as you can, and whenever possible, don’t act your age.

For another look at how some older people are living their lives, please go to the November 7, 2013 entry, “Oldies But Goodies.”