“Life is long. You never know what will happen next!”
Morgan Freeman, 79, Academy Award winning actor
Top “voice” actor in documentaries and animations
All my life, I’ve looked forward to being old enough that I’d be at least relatively wise. Something seems to have happened in the intervening years.
Life Goal: Get Old, Get Wise
I’m more than halfway to my goal age of 80 and while I’m no longer so sure of wisdom, I’m finding that aging comes anyway. For some reason, it’s less exciting than I expected.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a Yankee and we don’t give in to age easily. So, for example, you’ll find me on early weekend mornings building retaining walls in my garden. Shuffling 22-pound blocks around as I make my unprofessional efforts to create their best arrangement is better strength training than I’d ever get at a gym.
But the first warning that I’d hit a pothole in this aging process came when I attended a sportsmen’s show with my widowed father, age 84.
Oops! Mistaken for My Father’s Wife
Dad is stooped with that spine curve that old people get sometimes, which has stolen nearly six inches from his height. His buzz cut conceals his lack of hair; his grin reveals his in-progress dental work. Everyone assumed I was his wife. This was just a week after I’d touched up my grays.
The next day, I made a quick run to the market. A slim, well-dressed guy, about my dad’s age, was also shopping for dried fruits. He caught my eye and smiled.
I’ll admit he was cute. With his white hair and mustache, he looked a little like Dick van Dyke in “Diagnosis Murder.” But I don’t think I’m ready to have guys in their 80s make passes at me. I finished my shopping as quickly as I could and dove into the coffee shop where I get my regular fix. The barista could have been my kid.
Oops 2! Hit on By Guy in 80s!
“Medium light, as always,” I told him. “And since I’m about to leave town, I’m going to ask you a question that you can answer honestly. A guy in his 80s just hit on me at Hannafords. How old do you think I am?”
With a bit of reluctance, but with no tentativeness, he hazarded: “Upper 50s.”
“Close enough!” I said in triumph. He was over but not so much that it hurt. “I guess guys just keep going after younger women.”
The question I have to ask myself is: given how much I enjoy older adults and value their contributions, why am I reluctant to discover that I’m becoming one?
The Joy of Multigenerational Friendship
I suspect the answer has to do with discovering that all these years, I’ve been one of very few who enjoys older adults and values their contributions. Now, as one of those approaching “older,” I find myself segregated to a group “like” me on the job, in the neighborhood, or at church. No matter how much I might think younger adults have to offer me (or me to them), we don’t get to know each other.
God tells us:
“Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect [honor] for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:32)
Maybe sometimes it is respect I want. I really do like to tell funny stories from the days when we were still inventing GPS and the big van full of GPS equipment showed the US Secretary of Transportation that he was riding in the middle of a river, not along a river’s edge road.
But sometimes all I want is connection. I’ve always enjoyed just hanging out with friends both older and younger. I try to keep a multi-decade span in my relationships, so I can enjoy both uninhibited play with young people and well-seasoned thought from my older friends.
God tells us to respect older adults for the same reason we revere the Lord: They are part of the community to which we are committed. They are part of our reason for being. The older I become, the more I know that this is true.
5 Ways to Enjoy Time with Older Friends
What are your favorite opportunities for giving honor to an older adult? Here are some of mine.
- Ask them about their childhood and pay attention to the response.
- Ask what experiences taught them the most important lessons about work or family life.
- Ask them about their favorite songs and where they were when they first heard them.
- Ask them what they would never change about their life.
- Ask them about the towns where they lived.
With any luck, someone will be asking me those questions as I continue to grow older. Because I truly do think that the years I’ve lived through — as well as the years my parents have told me about and the years I’ve learned about from studying our family’s history — offer lessons worthy of honor and respect.