Beyond 65 Plus: Observations on Growing Older

By Marvin Druger
Email: mdruger@syr.edu

agingThe over 65 generation has lived a long time and have learned how to cope with life from a large variety of experiences, good and bad. We do learn from everything we do and everything we do becomes part of what we are. The wisdom of older age is often lost onthe younger generation, and younger people do not appreciate or respect that wisdom. I think of the famous quote by the late TV journalist Tim Russert: “The older I get, the smarter my father seems to get.”

It is not uncommon for younger people to reinvent the wheel. A brilliant new venture is proposed in the workplace, but nobody except the older folks seems to know that this project has already been tried and it failed. Instead of acknowledging this truth, and revising the project accordingly, the failed plan is often reinstituted without any consideration as to why the plan failed years before. One of my mottos is, “Remember the past when planning the future.” Consultation with older, experienced individuals before plunging into the abyss could help a project be revised and succeed the second time.

Everyone is unique and is the product of life experiences interacting with a unique genotype. I always argue that you can be taller, richer, smarter, etc., but nobody is better than anyone else. Each of us has our own unique talents and weaknesses. Because people over 65 have had more life experiences than younger individuals, they have more wisdom. The challenge is to use this wisdom in constructive, meaningful ways.

A good feature of growing older is that we can recognize our strengths and weakness and make changes in a positive direction. No matter where we go, we have to take ourselves with us. So, we have to like ourselves and adjust to ourselves. Here is a poem I wrote that is from my book, “Strange Creatures and Other Poems.”

Myself

Once in a while
When I have a bad day,
I want to escape
To a land far away.

But I can’t really escape,
That’s something I know,
‘Cause I take myself with me
Wherever I go.

So, I have to like me
And like what I do,
Then I can feel happy,
And live life better too.

As unique individuals, we all have our idiosyncrasies. One of my traits is to talk a lot. I go to Metro Fitness in Fayetteville regularly to exercise my mouth as well as my body. My tendency to talk so much can be annoying to others. Indeed, the final words to me from my deceased wife, Pat, were, “Marvin, shut up!” Also, I tend to mostly talk about myself. After all, I know more about myself than I know about anything else.  This tendency to talk mostly about oneself is not uncommon. I once gave an assignment to a small group of students to eavesdrop on a conversation between any two people. My view was confirmed.

“I have a bad pain in my foot” — Reply: “You should hear about the pain in my foot.” “I. I. I. me. me. me” is the common mode of conversation. I have discovered that everyone loves a good listener, not a talker. I actually attended a workshop to learn how to be an active listener. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, but I recognize this flaw in my behavior and I sometimes try to make adjustments. I once told a student, “I talk too much.” The student’s response was, “But you have a lot to say.” This student got an A in my course.

As I grow older, I have become more aware of being friendly, courteous, kind and nice to others. If I’m lost or need help, I never hesitate to ask someone for help. Even the most grim-faced individual turns out to be friendly and accommodating. If someone helps me, I usually give them a small magnifier in a plastic sleeve, with my caricature and contact information on the sleeve. Nowadays, when I meet people on the street, they often don’t say “hello.” Instead, they know what is coming and they say, “No thanks, I already have one magnifier … or two … or three.”

The magnifier idea came about many years ago. I approached a student in my biology class who didn’t seem to be paying attention. I said, “John. Why aren’t you taking notes?” “He replied, “I’m drawing pictures of you.” “Great. Can I keep it?” John gave me written permission to use it as my logo, and I have done so ever since. The caricature has served as a pathway to gratitude and friendship in many instances. It has appeared on T-shirts, books, bumper stickers, caps, posters and many other miscellaneous items. One lady even had the caricature put on her pillowcase. I asked her why and she replied, So that I can say, “I slept with Marvin.”

As I age, I have noticed that people seem much more courteous and respectful. Once, an old lady offered me a seat on a crowded bus. (Of course, I refused the offer.) Teenagers have held doors open for me and almost everyone now calls me “Sir.” I once had a conversation with the then president of the National Organization for Women (NOW). I argued that a man opening a door for a woman was a courtesy, not an implication that they were not strong enough to do so. She said, “Has any woman ever opened a door for you?” “Well, No” I replied. “Let’s try it,” she said. She then opened the door for me and I walked through it. “How was that?” she asked. “Wonderful,” I said, “Let’s do it again!”

Our reward for growing older is the senior discount. Several times, I have forgotten to ask for the discount, but they gave it to me without asking. We should always ask for a senior discount, even if it is not advertised. On one occasion, I complained that there was no senior discount. The proprietor replied, “I charge more for seniors.” Actually, it is often the seniors who can afford to pay the full price, while a younger, struggling individual cannot. It might be better to have junior discounts

A small magnifier in a plastic sleeve with Marvin Druger’s caricature and contact information on the sleeve. The author has given hundreds of magnifiers to people with whom he interacts.
A small magnifier in a plastic sleeve with Marvin Druger’s caricature and contact information on the sleeve. The author has given hundreds of magnifiers to people with whom he interacts.

Being nice and courteous to older people seems to be more prevalent in our society. A few years ago, near Thanksgiving, I was having coffee with a professional colleague in a café. I was well-dressed and wore a sports jacket and tie. An attractive African-American lady purchased something at the store counter. Then, she walked by our table and gave me a $5 bill. “Have a happy Thanksgiving,” she said. I stared at her in disbelief. She repeated “Have a very happy Thanksgiving.” And she walked out of the store. I framed the $5 bill. It reminds me to be kind to everyone I meet.

I am now enjoying the luxury of being treated like an older person. I smile when someone older than me holds open a door for me. I enjoy being called sir. It’s like being knighted. I like when my grandchildren dote over me. “Grandpa, I’ll carry your bag.” Or “I’ll get you a glass of water.” When we went on a family trip, my granddaughter hooked my arm and became my escort. I like being called virtually every night by my children and grandchildren. They share the deep loneliness I feel from losing my dear wife, Pat, several years ago.

Before Pat even became ill from lung cancer, we agreed that, if one of us should die, the other should go on and live life as fully as possible. I was fortunate enough to meet a lovely woman, Victoria, to share my life. I will never marry again, but Victoria and I travel together and share each other’s company. Victoria is many years younger than me.  She told her friend about our age difference and her friend asked, “Do you spend all your time taking him to doctors’ appointments?” The older I get, the greater the need for humor.

As we age, there is also a need for regular exercise.  Bodily functions deteriorate as we age, but, if we exercise regularly, they decline more slowly. A friend of mine told me that he hates exercise. He told me that, whenever he gets the urge to exercise, he lies down until the urge goes away. I find that exercise provides mental as well as physical benefits, especially as we grow older. I jokingly tell people that it’s not the exercise that’s good for you. It’s the shower. Pretend to exercise, then take a shower, and you’ll feel great. Don’t believe it? Keep exercising.

One of the greatest barriers to doing regular exercise is the lack of motivation. It’s too easy not to do exercise. My motivation traces back to a colleague at Syracuse University. He taught me how to play squash and we went to the squash courts every day at noon for about a month. Finally, I said, “This this ridiculous. How do you find time to do this every day?” He replied, “You find time to eat lunch, don’t you?” Lesson learned for a lifetime.

Older people tend to become grouchy, argumentative and less sensitive to insults. What you say can’t really hurt me. Who cares? Most of the time, insults are not intentional, but the words may hit a sore spot in our psyche. It’s good to put the insult in perspective. When our feelings are hurt by someone’s words, my advice is to just let it go. People are dying in nursing homes — the insult can’t really be that important.

On the other hand, we should be careful about not insulting anyone with unkind words. When words leave our mouths, we cannot take them back again. So, it’s a good idea to let words be processed by your brain before they leave your mouth.

The thoughts about aging that I have expressed above hold true for many older and younger individuals. Instead of complaining and moaning and groaning, we should enjoy our life experiences and laugh as much as we can.

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