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!’




     In my impetuous youth, I took up skydiving, briefly.  Yes, there was a boyfriend involved, but ultimately I felt it might help cure my fear of heights.  Instead, it exacerbated them.  The real life lesson that remained though, was knowing that I was responsible for my actions.  No one else was going to pull that ripcord for me.

     My teenagers inhabit a world where self-mastery is an option not necessarily a goal.  Their role models are in and out of rehab.  They communicate more by text and screen than they do eye to eye.  They don’t labor over a handwritten, “Thank You”, but dash an email instead.  Their impulses and curiosities can be met so instantly that they have never needed to develop real patience or deep observation.  Why bother?  Someone else, somewhere, has already done it for them.  Just click for the answer.

     Here are some things teenagers have said to me in just the last year.  “Why make myself exercise when I can hire a personal trainer?  Besides, if I ever get fat, I’ll just get liposuction.”  “My lips are too thin so my mom’s taking me for collagen injections.”  “College is a complete waste of time.  My dad says I can just work in his company.” 

     Not only do they relish this world of ‘instant fixes,’ there are also multiple ways for them to ‘fix’ problems if things don’t go their way.  They can sue their parents, their teachers, the cops or even the local McDonald’s.  They may think the world is at their command, but it’s a mere illusion, as elusive and meaningless as the number of ‘friends’ on their Facebook page.

     What will really save them?  The old people.  You know, the bent over, wrinkled ones that we’re all so busy avoiding or scrambling over; the ones who pay their own bills, fought in the wars, wouldn’t dream of suing someone for a mere cockroach in their soup.  Those white-haired, slow-moving, storehouses of knowledge, experience and wisdom.  That’s who. 

    If I was a teenager today and didn’t have a grandparent handy, I’d start up a conversation with the next old person I see.  They’ll be the best lifesaver you’ve ever grabbed on to.  Take it from me.  (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” a memoir of the years before and after her grandmother’s descent into Alzheimer’s.)