Old Age Is Not A Disease

No ,no ,no. Old age is not a disease. It is not contagious. It is not viral or bacterial. You could sit next to some old biddy like me on the bus or plane, and you wouldn’t expose yourself to infection, even if I sneezed. Before we reach the plateau which is called old age, we are usually referred to as middle aged. Sometimes, I think there’s an enormous difference between the two stages and sometimes not so much. There is a continuum between stages, and how we approach it, how we deal with it, or even how it deals with us, makes a difference, as well.

For starters, let’s dispense with the euphemisms. No, old age is not synonymous with the golden years, but weren’t adolescence and the late teen ages, a kind of pain in the butt? We forget about school and having to study, and having to obey a bunch of rules that we didn’t make, and generally didn’t agree with or accept, without a certain reluctance. I can’t wait till I grow up. Sound familiar? Well you have, and up and up and up and up, so let’s quit our complaining- aren’t we ever satisfied?

I am no longer young, In fact, I’m generally characterized as old, at least according to the varied doctors I have seen, and who have told me that the reason so much of my equipment is in disrepair is because I am old, ageing, or mature, depending on whether or not they went to charm school or took a course in patient relations. When I moved to Florida, no longer able to afford to live in New York City, the city of my birth, and the place where I had lived most of my life, I was lonely. At first, I lived in a rental complex for families and people of all ages. I was still lonely. Seemed like everyone went to work or to school and much as I loved my then dog, Daisy, she wasn’t a great conversationalist. After weeks of the soul deep loneliness where even a phone call from the Tampa Bay Times, trying to sell you a subscription, is welcome, I knew I had to make a change to my life.

One of the first things I learned when I moved to my new dwelling – average age 85-95- is that people expect to live forever and do not want to deal with the possibility of life coming to an end. When they admired my dog, and I expressed my desire for a simultaneous earthly departure, I was accused of being morbid and the subject was rapidly dismissed. I would discover that death was the F word and no self respecting human being ever let it pass beyond clenched lips.

Interestingly, although I learned to keep my lips closed, most conversations focused on myriad illnesses and or diseases, plus surgery, including all of its lurid descriptions, with fractures and falls also ranking at the top. There was no expiration date on any event – 10 years ago,20 years ago, or the future – all was grist for the conversational mill. Occasionally, a mass shooting somewhere in the world or a flood back home – ([ots of transplanted residents ) preempted the medical analyses, but business then resumed as usual.

When I was a kid, crossing the frontier in a covered wagon . Oh,Grandma no one is that old. Are they? Maybe not. Maybe it just feels that way. To give you a little perspective, I lived for a long time without apps – at least Steven Jobs apps – An apple for the teacher – had nothing to do with being wireless, more to do with the weird kids who tried to curry favor by gifting the teacher with a piece of fruit. So what has all this got to do with anything? Not much, but I wanted to establish a time line, before I returned to the residents’ conversations, and explain of what they remind me. When I was a kid we used to play a game called telephone. You sat next to someone and they sat next to someone and so on down the line and you whispered a phrase into someone’s ear and they repeated it and at the end, it came out completely garbled and with no relationship to the original phrase.

That’s what happens here but it’s not called telephone. It’s called gossip by some and more often than not it’s shouted into someone’s hearing aid and so on down the line, so you see, it could also get garbled and a failing kidney could be a trip to rehab by Sidney. Unscrambling is part of the process and adds to our own social network. Since there are several hundred people living here, it’s impossible to know everyone, although there are several residents who have achieved what may seem an impossibility, but for most, recognition by sight or hand wave is the norm. Being of a more solitary bent than some, I put myself in the latter group. As with any congregation, there is a tendency to form discrete friendships, but the real chosen are blood relatives only and those who are not so categorized, wear the name family, by default.

Some people never apply the word older to themselves, at least not publicly. They say that they’re maturing or past their middle years, but old is admitting defeat and refers to someone else. We have succumbed to the world’s assessment of old age because according to the rest of the world, old is synonymous with useless, inadequate, somewhat scatterbrained and the like. Old is not a disease, it’s not contagious ,it’s universal, and depending on how it’s handled, isn’t necessarily a horror show. Of course, we’re the players and we have to get the word out – both good and bad. It’s in our hands and it’s out of our hands. Too enigmatic? Well, lets’ explain.

From the moment we leave the nest we have goals or focus. Initially, our goals are innate. As part of normal growth, we expand our mental capacities to keep pace with our physical development. After that has taken place, we begin to consider what we want to do with our lives. All of this takes place over a considerable amount of time,  times varying contingent on the myriad variances among individuals and circumstances. Remember, goals can range from wanting to be a millionaire to hoping never to have to enter the work force. Or our focus can be on not having any real focus, just drifting along with the tide. Even if we protest, as did Peter Pan in song, that we won’t grow up, we will grow up – barring incident or accident, leading to an early demise – and grow and grow and grow- and here we are in old man’s/woman’s land without ever making a plan or setting a goal to be here. Doesn’t seem fair, somehow. Seems like it was just yesterday when we did what we wanted when we wanted to with an ease that now eludes us.

So let’s go back to the congregation or community in which we live. I, like many others, have lived in congregate housing where the only thing that any of the renters had in common, was the landlord. We were a varied group, so much so that we often lived in our own little cell for many years, without ever getting to know our neighbors.. What we had in common was that we were all human beings and, dependent on the pleasure of the landlord, there were some members of the animal species as well.
Probably, the only things that the above dwellings had in common with the senior complex in which I live and which is replicated through out the country, are the structures, the actual stucco, bricks and mortar which house the residents in their complete disconnectedness to one another.

Disconnectedness. That is a word one would never apply to a senior complex. Plugged in would be more apt and heaven help those who are oblivious of the balancing act. Balance, what so many of us want restored to our life to maintain the status quo, to the way things were, Suddenly, it seemed, I was in the bottom of my world and I knew that somehow, I had to climb my way up. How to do it?

For me, what has always worked is an understanding of my situation. Where am I? What do I want? Where do I want to go and what is the importance of anything or everything, anyway? In what I refer to as my real life, the life I led when I was basically in control, there is one incident which stands out, particularly in light of its importance in the community in which I now live.

I was employed in the health care field and would frequently visit senior centers where I would observe the participants engaged in various activities, most generally in what I refer to as “crafts”. Some seemed to require a degree of skill but other s seemed involved in cutting out Thanksgiving turkeys and after a bit of reflection, I wrote an article expressing my fear at some day cutting out turkeys as a form of recreation. That became a kind of mantra for me and as I aged, I kept the phrase, “I don’t want to cut out turkeys” in the back of my mind.

What I now realize is that my fear of cutting out turkeys is not universal. The turkey in our lives is representative of some other activity or interest that was a part of our lives, in which we have either lost interest or can no longer perform, and which has become the filler in an otherwise empty space. This sounds like an optional choice, but it may be far from being so categorized. When we move away from the natural progressions of life – marriage, children, family, employment – we need to find fillers because we are living longer and stronger, and most of us, for most of or lives, have had it drummed into our heads by ourselves or others, that idleness is akin to a waste of our lives. Facetiously we say, ”shop till you drop” but we do most things to excess and work is certainly one of them, especially paid employment.

To many of us, the friendly to animals policy that is touted as part of the culture of the Dodo Birds,  was the siren song that brought us to the portals of the complex, with our canines and kitty cats, where we expected to be welcomed with open paws. Sadly, only some are friendly to animals and many others consider humans as members of the ruling class, with no responsibility for the creatures that are part of the grand plan. In fact, to these same others, animals are part of an inferior species and should be kept in their place which is – unfortunately – not this place in which I live.

Which is further unfortunate because they make wonderful scapegoats, Residents spill their coffee, being transported in the elevator to their apartments, and the little four legged critters are blamed. We know better. Volume alone tells us they’re blameless, but prudence tells us that as part of the minority, we are in a no – win situation and our canine companions are too wise to go barking up the wrong tree. So we get some new rules. In this pet friendly complex, the feet of our pets must never touch the carpet and so we have two options. A carriage – which most of us select – or a oija board- my secret choice, so that I may contact Fred Astaire to learn his secret of walking on the ceiling.

To further welcome our four legged friends, they are given a choice space to do their business, a narrow walk out the back door, where some of our more adventuresome drivers temporarily park their cars, after an exciting game of chicken with dogs and owners. Not for sissies, but old age is not for sissies, either. Not for sissies or for those who don’t deal well with uncertainty and uncertainty is a part of life, for sure, but, as insurance gurus know, uncertainty grows along with ageing.  So let us grow older disgracefully. Why not?

Leave a Reply