Could not have said this better…..nor funnier……so take a peek.
Much ado has been made about Alzheimer’s. In the Netherlands there is even an entire, self-contained village where people with dementia live like ‘normal’ people. Denmark has a community called, “Life in the 50′s” for those boomers who want to retire in nostalgia. However, while championing the cause of the moment, we are neglecting entirely the real problem facing us right now: our elderly. Every 7 seconds someone in the US turns 60. In 5 years, one-third of the population will be over 55.
So what are we doing? Building thousands of nursing homes instead of designing our present cities so that we can age gracefully in them. I live in a lovely, long-established neighborhood but there is not a single sidewalk so that I can walk through it safely. I could move to one of those retirement communities where everyone drives around in golf carts but that would get ‘old’. Besides, I would miss seeing and learning from young people and though they don’t know it yet, they would miss me, too.
Since one-third of us will soon be in that special milieu just how ‘golden’ will those years actually be? Our culture STILL has a fascination with all things young and Madison Avenue continues to sink millions into glitzy Cosmopolitan advertisements. But who wants to be sold high heels when they have trouble climbing the stairs? Who will buy the next high-tech gizmo that takes 20-20 vision and fast, nimble fingers to operate? And while collagen may plump up your lips, it takes joy to really make them smile. That feeling springs from a nurturing community, not a divisive one.
We need to stop creating separate spaces that divide us and design ones that incorporate both young and old. Imagine a park where Maya Angelou strolls with Miley Cyrus discussing poetry as Jack Nicklaus shows Justin Bieber how to swing a 9 iron. Hard to imagine? Yes, but not so long ago that was how life in America looked. People were connected face to face—not cyberspace.
Am I sounding political? You bet. If we continue devaluing the old while placing premiums on the young we will create a restless, impatient and mentor-less society. Unemployment figures would shrink to zero if focus were put on aiding the elderly: building one-level homes, designing smaller cities that are walkable, creating abundant parks, planting greenery and simply caregiving our real ‘antiques;’ the ones so priceless they cannot be sold at auction.
Do you know who the most uptight people are?? The young. Go figure. While they are telling the rest of us to, “Chill out,” they are trying so desperately to, “Fit in,” they can’t see straight. There is NOTHING more anxiety producing than trying to get somewhere fast without a map. Worse? Most of them don’t even know where they’re going yet.
Do you know who the most ‘chill’ people are? Us. Yup. You and me baby. We don’t need Google, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter or Instagram to affirm our self worth. We figured that stuff out a long time ago. We also figured out that most of it useless and utterly unimportant. We KNOW where we FIT—and it isn’t “IN”—and frankly, we don’t give a D—.
So now that we have that straight, how are we flaunting our chillness? How are we showing the world (and those young people) what it’s like to be totally cool and groove in your own skin? Are we dancing to the music wherever it plays? Are we waving to strangers and starting up random conversations?
Last night I was dancing in line at Chipotle. Couldn’t help myself. The music was loud and had a great beat. By the time I got to the counter, the whole crew was giggling. So, I said, “Hey, you guys. If I lift my leg straight up over my head right now, will you give me the guacamole free?” They looked askance. Probably thought I had been drinking but frankly, liquor can’t hold a candle to my own ‘spirit.’ “Sure,” one dreadlocked kid said. “Go for it.” I did. Got a double scoop—for free.
Now tell me the last time YOU had that much fun? Go ahead. Feel free. Post it right here. Right now. Be BOLD:
”Kissing Tomatoes,” is now available in paperback.
Pushing my grocery cart towards the automatic doors, I can’t help but notice the older man just ahead of me. He is tall and spry, and the bright, yellow sweater he wears sets off his sharp, new haircut. I observe these details because when the automatic doors open, he doesn’t budge.
“Waiting for the light to change, huh?” I laugh, making light of his hesitation.
“Nope. Just waiting for my wife,” he sighs. “Apparently, I’m not allowed to drive anymore.” The heavy loss of independence sits deep in his eyes.
“It was just a little fender bender,” he explains. “The guy ahead of me just stopped too fast.”
His son took away his car keys. Now he has to be driven everywhere like a school boy. He’s mad but mostly he’s sad. I would be, too. No more jumping in the car on a moment’s whim and letting the world swirl past your windows. From here on out he will just be a passenger. I imagine him raising that son; the one who took his first steps as Dad looked on with pride. Now that boy will watch him take these last ones.
Having seen my share of retirees motor through 4-way stop signs or suddenly stop for seemingly no reason, I get it. Many shouldn’t be behind the wheel in the first place. Right now, there are one million licensed drivers over the age of 80! And while one could say the same for teen drivers, statistics don’t lie: drivers over 85 have four times the fatality rate of teenage motorists.
At 17, I drove almost the entire California coastline in an old, Chevy Nova. Still remember the hairpin turns approaching Big Sur, the scary, high cliffs where mammoth waves crashed on the rocks below. It was a thrilling and heady ride and I was the master of my fate.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” No wonder. That’s where all those wild and free memories first ignited in us; the ones we thought would last and last with just a turn of the key. I would like to believe that someday I will be in that one percent still cruising in their 90‘s with the top down. Praying, of course, that I never hear: ‘Get off the road Grandma!’
I’ve done some odd things the last few years: put the bills in the icebox, then headed to the mailbox with a carton of milk; gone to change a light bulb, only to put the burned out bulb right back into the socket; sprayed oven cleaner on the windows right after I sprayed Windex in the oven; paid the same bill twice in the same week! You get the picture. But today may well have topped them all.
The temperature had dropped into the 20’s, so I sat down on the sofa to put on a nice, warm pair of socks before I headed out to the pool. My bikini was lying on top of my workout bag. Methodically, I lifted my left leg thinking I was putting on my left sock, but instead, stuck my left foot into the left side of the bikini bottom. Then just as methodically stuck my right leg into the other side and pulled up my bikini snug over my sweat pants. I stood there a moment wondering why my feet were still so cold…………yeah.
Forgetfulness is apparently in the cards for my future. For now, I just laugh at myself. If I had Alzheimer’s, of course, I would forget how to laugh altogether. So, each day that I do something stupid—and it is most days—I always remind myself to LAUGH. That way, hopefully, folks won’t think I have dementia and need to go into a home.
A close friend called today to let me know that three of his buddies went into Alzheimer’s homes in the last year and all three died within months of moving into them. “I don’t understand it,” he said, “they were all lovely places but my friends—one of them really healthy— just suddenly up and died.”
I understand. It is hard enough losing one’s mind without losing all sense of one’s place in the world. A home is a touchstone. The longer one has lived in it, the deeper its hold on the psyche. And no amount of granite counter tops or new wall to wall carpet can compensate. T. S. Eliot once said, “Home is where one starts from.” I figure it’s also where I want to end up. Besides, I sure don’t want some stranger seeing me walk around with my bikini on over my clothes.
Had a great laugh this morning when I asked my 90 year-old pal how his ‘get up and go’ was. “Oh, it’s great,” he enthused. “In fact, every time I get up I have to go, if you know what I mean,” he confided. I do. Frankly, if peeing were an event in the Olympics, seniors would have a jump start on the competition. Aging is an obstacle course with unforeseen twists and turns that require persistence and humor just to navigate.
Everyone deals with it differently, though. A close friend in his 80’s says he told his kids, “If I ever get to the point where I’m helpless, bring me that bottle in my medicine cabinet.’ “What’s in the bottle?” I asked. “Xanax,” he replied. “Well, how do you plan to kill yourself with Xanax?” “I figure if I take enough of it, that’ll do the trick. I take half a pill every night before bed to help me sleep.” “Well what if you’re all out by the time you decide to take the whole bottle?” I queried. “Hmm,” he replied, “didn’t think about that.”
Now there is good reason to be a bit depressed when one looks in the mirror as the decades pass. But did you know that depression affects both adolescents and the elderly equally. That’s sobering. What possibly puts a sixteen year-old on par with one who is sixty? Some say the common thread is that the young who suffer depression have not yet grasped their sense of identity or purpose. The old are desperately grasping on to who they were and cannot accept who they are now.
This morning, my own ‘get up and go’ was gone. I just did not want to get out of bed. Finally, I shuffled into the kitchen to make coffee. Suddenly, my 17 year-old tore into the room like a wild tornado. She grabbed a muffin in one hand, drank half a glass of milk with the other, flung her backpack over one shoulder and headed out the garage. “Bye, Mom,” she yelled. “Gotta go.” Talk about inspiration. Ten minutes later, I was out the door myself and headed to the gym. Nothing like youth to set fire to the old embers.
My cure for depressed teens? Spend the day in a nursing home. Feeling old and depressed? Spend a day in high school.
12. A good night’s sleep can happen smack in the middle of the day.
11.. When your car gets towed, you are actually entitled to a senior discount!
10. No one tries to slip a ‘date rape’ drug in your drink.
9. Store clerks don’t try to sell you spandex or stilettos anymore.
8. Losing your hearing, particularly at the higher decibels, is a blessing.
7. Losing your vision is also a blessing because you actually think you still look good.
6. You don’t have to worry about running ‘your own race,’ because no one else is that far behind.
5. No one worries about ‘giving you the gossip’ because they know you’ll forget it by the time you get home anyway.
4. You don’t have to worry about how you look because frankly, no one is looking.
3. You have all the time in the world to converse with complete strangers who just dialed the wrong number.
2. You have a long list of strong, young men at your fingertips. (Someone has to get that dead squirrel off the roof).
And the top ten upside of going downhill?
1. You don’t need to ‘google’ anything because if you haven’t googled it already, it’s just not worth googling.
Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” an Alzheimer’s memoir.