I'm 85 and fast closing in on my 86th birthday. I figure I'm old enough to opine on growing old.
I remember as youth attending UB, I would ride the Main Street streetcar in Buffalo from the campus on North Main (that's the only campus there was then) to the bus terminal downtown, which last time I looked is now a police station. I was always struck by the old people on the streetcar who sat there with a scowl seemingly cemented on their face. They never looked happy or contented. I would immediately relax my face to avoid such tension caused wrinkles. (It didn't help.)
Growing old can easily inspire a feeling like that when you begin to see yourself as a dried up creek bed with only memories of being a flowing stream, with spring fresh rainwater bubbling over the pebbles. A lack of energy can easily cause one to feel like a racing car with four flat tires, and no spare.
Various times of life are like different textbooks, in that each has its lessons to teach. One lesson one must learn in old age, more than at any other time, is that happiness is not found by dwelling on oneself, probably because there's not much left there to dwell on. Obsessive dwelling on oneself can be a failing at any age, but there is no time in life when one should be more determined to avoid self absorption than as one grows older.
Self obsession can often take over the mentality of the young. They are on a mission to discover who and what they are; but it's hardly inspiring to an aged person. If one hasn't developed an eager interest in something that is completely outside of your own ego, old age can be tougher than it has to be. It can also be tougher to make yourself useful when you no longer have many duties. But an active interested mind is always a blessing at any age; and it is found in simply taking an interest in people and things.
I believe it was the Scottish novelist/poet, Robert Louis Stevenson who said in a short verse, "The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings."
The essence of overcoming self interest is in forgetting that pervasive "What's in it for me," attitude. We seem to have a lot of that in the country today, and a lot of unhappy people to go with it.
Everyone is treated unfairly at one time or another. Get over it. Don't let it overcome your sense of gratitude for who and what you are. The more you can accept yourself and other people, along with their better and lesser human traits, and enjoy them, the happier and more productive your life will be. Forgive them for they know not what they do. Taking an interest in something and doing your reasonable best is always worthwhile.
In my imagination I can still feel the wind on my face as I careen down a steep ski slope and cut my edges into a sharp turn. I've skied on all the local slopes, many places in Vermont, some in Canada and in Colorado, but that was then, this is now. Those memories enrich my old age. I am still playing golf, although I'm no longer able to play as well as I once did. My eight or nine handicap has grown to a 23. When the golf course opens every spring one's heart blooms with anticipation like a spring daffodil. It's still great to be out on those fresh, iridescent, green fairways, and a straight shot down the fairway still feels good, even if it only goes half as far as it used to.
I suppose the most important criteria for growing old is in understanding what newsman Walter Cronkite's nightly adieu meant when he said "And that's the way it is." May God bless America.
Richard Westlund is a Collins resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org