So I want to grow old gracefully. But what does that mean? I guess it is up to each of you to define that for yourself. For me, it means waking up each day excited for what is to come. It is being consumed with the present and near future, not the ultimate. It is accepting of my new limitations and the journey to find joy not despite them, but in a strange way, because of them. Sound crazy? Perhaps. It is just that I believe that we need to change the way we think about aging. Embrace entropy! You spent the first half of your life fighting it. We all know the ride’s gonna stop. Are you going to follow the rules and keep your hands and feet inside the car or are you going to scream with delight, waving your hands and try to stand up for what could be the greatest part of your life?
Getting back on ground again, how have I defined what it means to grow old gracefully? Despite my optimism about what lies ahead, by the time you are really old you probably won’t be able to make the call, if that is the first time you give it thought. So on the way up the hill LISTEN to what those other people are saying about old people. Pay attention to the old people you know. Apply the lessons learned to your situation and ADAPT!
But paying attention and leading a thoughtful life can be really hard and tedious. Insight is a bitch and self-awareness is about as elusive as dog hair in Mitt Romney’s car. So if you are so inclined, you can use the rules of the road I have been developing. Keep in mind that they are ever evolving. However, if followed religiously, they may actually make people want to be with you despite that offending odor that is inevitable and cannot be covered up with excessive use of baby powder or applications of High Karate.
1. Rejoice in the crying baby
OK, you are in that nice upscale restaurant. I am not talking about Le Bernardin or Alinea. Let’s say a Capital Grill. Next to you, sitting at a table are an older couple, a younger couple, and a nine month old infant. And the infant is not necessarily digging the world class Porterhouse. You know, the perfect steak because it has a sirloin and a filet in one? Anyway, the baby is making a fuss. We’re not talking the scream from The Who’s, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Below 80 decibels, which is about the amount of a ringing phone for those readers that know what the hell a ringing phone actually sounds like.
Do you act irritated? Are you enjoying your meal less? Are you talking about that annoying little thing at the table next to you or, ever worse, are you casting a disparaging glance towards them with the hope that your furrowed brow will be motivation enough for the parents to stick a steak knife in the baby’s sound box?
Nope. Growing old gracefully means you are actually enjoying the sound. You understand that nine month olds do a myriad of things that are unpredictable and not necessarily all that pleasant. But these things are what ALL nine month olds do at one time or another. It is inevitable and the essence of life. And while this nine month old decided to have a hissy fit next to you while you are attempting to mark the occasion of your making partner, an occasion only second to the rising of Christ and the invention of the McRib, your name will still be on the masthead tomorrow. And that sound is the sound of life, the next generation, or even your customer in a few years.
2. Live in a Heliocentristic way.
The Ptolemaic system, where all the other planets and the sun revolved around the earth, was shown as folly by Copernicus with later support from Kepler and Gallileo. They proved that the Heliocentric theory, that in which the earth and other planets revolved around the sun, was spot on.
So let me be the first to tell you that the world does not revolve around you, Bunky. You are just one of billions of other people many of whom have incredibly interesting life experiences. Sure, those close to you are concerned about you. But when it appears that all you share in common is the concern about you, they will continue to visit and pay attention but in a most superficial way. Remember, you do not want to ask them to visit you. You want them to ask to see you. When being with you makes them feel good, you will feel even better. Trust me, I know.
3. Listen hard, talk easy.
Stephen Covey said it best, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
You spent a great deal of your life learning to speak and, hopefully, write. You probably did not spend any time learning to listen. That’s a shame. There are really four kinds of listening.
Pretending – Usually indicated by timely grunts, uh-huh’s, looking at other things in the room or checking email.
Selective – You tune in and out based on if there was a “key” word uttered that was important to you.
Attentive – Not bad. You’re actually paying attention to the words being said. I call this superficial listening.
Empathy – The score! You are listening with great intent to understand what is being said from the other person’s point of view. You want to really understand their perspective and feelings.
Poor listening skills are not an exclusive characteristic of the elderly. It is a virtual epidemic. It is so pervasive that when you find that active and skilled listener, it is almost shocking. You will find yourself thinking that your new friend, the active listener, is actually a wise scholarly person. Someone who really understands the world. A great thinker and philosopher. And then you will realize he or she hardly said a word except those needed to clarify your ramblings or to provide positive feedback that they are really listening. How’d that happen? That is the beauty of being a great listener. People think you are smarter than you are. People think you are more insightful than you are. And they want to be around you because it makes them feel good.
4. Incoming or outgoing – We really don’t care what you ate or what you evacuated.
You may be in a nursing home that has food prisoners would riot over or you may be housed in the guest suite at Le Cordon Bleu. Either way what you consumed or what you did with it afterwards is really boring.
5. You’re Slowing Down – The world isn’t. Keep up.
Actively read the newspaper. Keep up with what is happening in the world. There is more to what is happening than presented by the nightly network news. Get more details. Read The Economist. And while you are at it, cancel your AARP membership.
6. Entropy sucks, we know.
Physically and mentally things generally don’t get better after 60. There are two things about entropy that are critical to growing old gracefully. First, take specific actions to slow it down. You ain’t gonna stop entropy so if you slow it down you will be a huge winner. Physical and mental exercises are the answer, if you still remember the question.
Second, don’t talk about it. It is about as interesting as what you had for dinner. Everyone has their issues. Yours may be not having the stamina you did when you were 21. The 21 year old you are visiting with may be worrying about making rent, working with a boss who is a psychopathic sociopath or that his girlfriend just cheated on him. You’ve got yours. They’ve got theirs. Listen to theirs. Chest yours. Besides, what they think are their problems will probably make you laugh, so enjoy.
7. Hang with young people – Old people can be a pain.
Let’s call it as it is. They are prettier, more energetic, and smell better. By definition they know what is happening with the young people and believe it or not, young people can have pretty good ideas. They’re not tainted by the bitter lessons of life, yet. You can laugh (internally, please) at their nativity and general ignorance. Hey, it’s not their fault. They have only experienced a fraction of what you have. An added benefit is they can drive better than you and if you fall, they can easily pick your skinny ass up.
8. Don’t eat dinner before 7:00 pm.
This will prevent you from going to bed at 7:00. Fuck the early bird special.
9. You are not the Roger Ebert to the world’s population
Of course people are not as smart as you, as kind as you, as insightful as you, and, obviously, as judgmental as you. Listen, Sparky, waiters, store clerks, gas station attendants, the people sitting next to you on the bus or in back of you at a movie do not all live for the sole purpose of making your life a living hell. So stop complaining about them. Just remember, you’re no picnic either.
10. And while we are on the subject of complaining, feel free to complain as much as you compliment.
Got the concept? Hey, there are things that are not so nice. But there are a bunch of things that are really cool. If you’re going to ramble on about one, palaver on about the other. People will listen more if you are balanced in your perspective.
If all you do is complain, no one will want to be around you. If all you do is wax on about how wonderful the world is, they will assume you lost one of your oars and it is time for admission to the Memory Clinic.
11. Stop driving sooner than you think is necessary
If you are a man, this is like saying you should cut off a significant portion of your penis. Look, I know that this is a really serious thing. If you do not live in an urban area, it is a huge change-of-life issue. But think about getting into the car and backing down the driveway and not seeing that 4 year-old on the Big Wheel in back of you. Think about getting disoriented and stepping on the gas instead of the brake in a crowded place. Rejoice in having someone else drive you around. Get a Kindle and read. Take a nap. Other drivers are assholes so think of the flusteration you are forsaking (Not a spelling error. It is a combination of the words Frustrated and Flustered. Courtesy of Gary White, RIP.)
12. If help is offered, take it!
Why the hell not? If it is one of your kids, remember the help you gave them. Endless hours of feeding. Cleaning their diapers of deposits that would make a major hazmat site look like The Big Rock Candy Mountain. Watching them on the playground and taking them on vacations that included Wall Drug and Reptile Gardens. And what about the financial help?!?! Sheesh. It’s time for a little payback. Rejoice. They owe it to you and you need it. Work the magic.
13. Not this.
Woman, lipstick teeth. Men, nipple high pants. ‘Nuff said?