Not for sissies: Continued reflections on growing old
Remember when you were in high school how you read Browning’s “Rabbi Ben Ezra?” The punch lines were: “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.” Baloney! After all, Browning was only about 52 when he wrote that, so what did he know?
For my money, the best of life is in your 40s and 50s. Then your life is pretty well established. You still have most of your mental and physical abilities. You know where you’re going and, best of all, you should know who you are. Too soon you’re old, and old age is not for sissies.
The greatest problem with old age, as I see it, is that too many of us haven’t prepared for it as well as we might have – and that is a tragedy. Last month I wrote about the importance of retaining your mental and physical health. Now let’s consider the next two vital needs: retaining your interests and friends.
One of the saddest sights some of us have seen is that of old people sitting in a nursing home, vacantly staring at the TV, waiting for the day (and life) to end. Recent studies indicate that two to three cups of regular coffee per day prevents Alzheimers and greatly reduces Parkinsons. I’d sure talk with your doctor about this. Also, we can do a great deal to prevent the apathy that occurs when we have nothing to live for.
For instance, when we were young we had interests or hobbies which we dropped on our way to making a living and rearing a family. Right now, while you still have the mental and physical capacity, why not embrace one of those interests again? Rekindle the spark while you can. If you wait until you’re old and then try to pick up the enthusiasm, you’ll find that it’s too cold.
We know people in their 80s and 90s who still enjoy physical activity. I’m one of them. If you’ve been active constantly, you can continue enjoying mental activities such as music, reading, games and conversation. So get back into some sort of swim while yet you can, and let it buoy you up in your old age.
Next, we need friends and support groups. Once people sat on their front porches and talked with the neighbors they’d known for years. Today we’re too often transients. John Donne was right when in 1624 he wrote: “No man is an island.” Sadly, we often live as islands. Our kids grow up and move away. We seldom talk with them or see our grandchildren. The clan we worked with dissolves through attrition, retirement or relocation. And old age can be lonely, mighty lonely, when you have no one close who truly cares and with whom you can chat.
Not only do we need people, people need us. We can’t hold on to those who move on. We can get involved in the lives of those who are here. The need is right here. Look at The Union each Thursday to see the great number of nonprofit organizations contributing to the well-being of our entire community. All of them are staffed with volunteers, and would die without them. Most of them are desperate for help. There’s a mighty good chance that one day you’ll be needing some of their services. How about giving one of them a hand while yet you can?
With most of them, you don’t even need professional qualifications. Just phone them or walk right in and ask: “Where can you use me?” If you do, you’ll discover a whole bunch of personal rewards. First, you’ll feel needed – something many of you haven’t felt for a long, long time. Next, you know by now that any time you give of yourself you get back emotionally twice what you spent in time and effort.
You find yourself developing new skills and a host of new friends. This giving also seems to improve your physical health and prolong your active life.
Finally, when it’s your turn to need help, you’ll have a deep reservoir of aid and good will to draw upon. So what are you waiting for?
In my article of August 24, I’ll tackle the final problem on growing old – the one that almost all of us worry about: How much money will I probably need when I grow old, and where is it coming from?
Otto Haueisen, an investment adviser in Nevada City, writes a monthly column.
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