I have many older friends, some in their 70’s and 80’s, some nearing 90. I love listening to their recollections of childhood, how things were done “back then.” They have lost siblings, spouses, children, and friends over the years, and I ask them how they cope. One gentleman told me, “You just get used to it,” while another one said he never has gotten used to it, and in fact, is no better at grieving than he ever was. He described his living room wall as holding many images of the dead, and wasn’t sure if they made him happy or sad, but he still keeps those photos there to remind him of all of those loves.
They have a long-range view of humanity, these older friends. Some of them remember World War II, and the Great Depression, and they assure me that as bad as things seem right now, both of those events were worse. But they do mention being grateful that they will not be here for future global climate change events. They tell me that they don’t spend much time speculating upon how many years they have left, but focus upon living right now and enjoying the days however they may.
Now that I’m in my 50’s heading toward 60, I especially find the perspective of the elderly helpful. It helps that most of my friends are well educated and have studied history, and are able to comment on many events of the times. And nearly all of them agree that humanity hasn’t changed much through the ages. Politics is still full of wrangling and mudslinging, empires rise and fall, and the fallout usually hits the average citizen most.
But most of all, I find the presence of my older friends soothing. They carry years of experience, loss, creative exploration, some fame, success on their own terms, and a kind of acceptance that is truly humbling, (although one friend said it’s mostly due to fatigue). My friends are not trying to impress anyone, they view their forgetfulness and aged bodies with a great deal of humor, and they value kindness, friendship, and a good meal. There’s also a quality of being comfortable in their own wrinkly skin, though they may have more aches and pains than they used to. They have survived illnesses and battle, divorces and death.
We get weathered by change and experience as we age. I only hope that I do so as pugnaciously, bravely, and authentically as my older friends do. And with as much humor.