Saturday, September 20, 2008

The "old" and the "old old"

Many years ago, The New Yorker magazine published a cartoon showing a man reading a page in a newspaper headlined “Obituaries.” Beneath the main headline were sub-heads reading “Same age as mine,” “Older than me,” and “Younger than me.” The man had a studious expression on his face as he obviously compared himself to the three categories in which the deceased fitted.

During my 60s and 70s, I also carefully read the N.Y. Times obits, making the same comparisons between myself and the deceased. I was saddened about those my age and younger--senior citizens the gerontologists regard as the "young old." I was comforted, however, to learn about those who had survived to more advanced years and had become "old old."

Now that I am about to turn 84 in November, I read the obits and feel fortunate that I have lived long enough to have qualified for "old old" status. And I recognize that my views and behavior are becoming markedly different from the "young old."

I'm not proud of it, but I’ve become less tolerant. I scorn much of the contemporary art scene—-music, the theater, films-—finding the works so inferior to what I enjoyed as a younger man.

I’ve become more indecisive about the most trivial matters. I often cannot make up my mind about what shirt to wear after I awaken each day. I struggle as I decide what to do first. Should I go shopping or stay home and read or take a walk? What's more important, to see a doctor about some new ache and pain or to take my car for maintenance at the service station? These are, for me, mind-boggling decisions that have to be made. But at least I'm spared from solving the national fiscal crisis.

I’ve lost my confidence in the medical profession, although I’ve had successful surgery to replace my aortic heart valve and my right hip. But I’m reluctant to call a doctor for every ache and pain. I’m dubious about the doctors’ ability to help some one my age and fear that I’ll be ordered to have an uncomfortable examination and procedure that really won't help me.

I now seem to regard physical comfort as the most important element in my life, a fact that really distresses me. I’ve always had an active social life, eager to go to concerts, the theater, art shows, and the like. Since having open-heart surgery about six years ago, however, I become more of a home-body because I frequently feel fatigued even though I've not engaged in any strenuous activity.

I have become less enthusiastic about going out and driving long distances, particularly at night—-much to the distress of my wife. But I have not become a social recluse. I still enjoy socializing with neighbors and friends (as long as they don't live too far away).

As an old old man, I am most disturbed that I find myself questioning whether I really had the talent to do what I did as a journalist for 40 years. I study the hundreds of clippings of articles that I wrote decades ago and can not believe that I actually produced the stuff. Was I faking it, I ask myself. I feel relieved that I am no longer called upon to handle the tough professional demands that I once faced.

I observe what some journalists are now being called to do-—covering the war, for example, in Iraq and Afghanistan under fire—and I wonder whether I would have been able to handle such assignments.

The issue is particularly relevant to me because I covered the Pentagon as a reporter in the 1950s and early 1960s during the non-shooting cold war years, and there was no call for me to become a war correspondent. (My wartime experiences were as an 18-21 year old soldier in India during World War II.)

For 23 years, I have lived in a community restricted to residents who are at least 55; younger spouses, however,are allowed. I was 61 and still working when I moved in. (I retired nearly three years later.) For years I played tennis, traveled with my wife, and took advantage of all the leisure activities available for the residents.

I am now too weary to do much of that. I enviously look upon the younger residents as they enjoy so many of those activities in which I no longer participate. And that's where the distinction between the just "old" people and the "old old" becomes dramatically evident.

I see a social schism developing between the two groups of elderly neighbors. The community has a clubhouse in which dances are held and professional entertainers perform. The cultural tastes differ markedly between the two generations living in what has been advertised as “an active adult” community. There’s a generational gap between the active “young old” and the far less active “old old.”

I am saddened as I see a steady stream of friends and acquaintances pass away. I am gratified, however, that I am still around to enjoy the company of my wife and children and that I still have a passionate interest in what’s going on in the world around me.

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18 Comments:

Blogger Sylvia K said...

I have sensed some depression and suspected it was from coming face to face -- again with growing older and I do understand. I worked until I was 67 and I do think the past eight years have been the hardest of all because I live in a younger neighborhood in which I am the oldest member. And again yesterday on the trip I took with all the "real" seniors and found myself wondering what I was doing there. I suddenly don't feel as though I "fit" anywhere although I, too, still have that same passionate interest in what's going on in the world around me. You are a brilliant man who still has much to give in whatever way, whatever size that may be offered to you. You are indeed, an inspiration to many of us.

Saturday, September 20, 2008 10:04:00 PM  
Anonymous nazar said...

That's a very interesting article, Mortart. I wish you years of happy and healthy life.

Saturday, September 20, 2008 11:01:00 PM  
Anonymous ...liz said...

Having a mother your age, many of our conversations sound similar to this posting. You speak for so many "old old" and "young old." You shouldn't question whether you'd have the talent needed to be a journalist today. Of course, you do!

Sunday, September 21, 2008 10:45:00 AM  
Blogger Hoots said...

My wife asked me the other day if I could still smell pineapples and lemons. Odd question, I thought, until she said she saw somewhere that the inability to discern those odors is an early indicator of Alzheimer's. We're in our sixties and the idea is a little disturbing, but I am reassured I can still smell those things but skeptical that the it's all that important.

It's a good sign that you still have the impulse to get out and go, even if the occasions are fewer and further apart. At least you haven't become an Internet recluse which can happen to younger people as well.

As to whether you could hold up under today's journalistic strains, just remember that we now have a generation or two that would not know how to use a mechanical typewriter even in an emergency, and for whom making carbon copies would be nearly impossible. And recording and transmitting technology is light years ahead of where it was even ten years ago. Fifty years ago you took for granted professional challenges that would make a modern journalist fold up like a cheap ironing board. No need to feel inferior in any way.

If you need evidence that vast numbers of otherwise smart people are still capable of behaving stupidly in vast numbers, just look at the news. I don't know about you, but it makes me glad that I'm not that smart.

Monday, September 22, 2008 10:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Jimmy H said...

I'm a 24 year old kid, and I found your blog through http://www.technorati.com/blogging/state-of-the-blogosphere/who-are-the-bloggers/

What a thoughtful piece. It's interesting hearing this kind of perspective. I've noticed myself becoming just a little bit more rigid in certain beliefs as I get older, and it kind of surprises me. I'm no longer flexible on certain issues, and the kinds of music that I'm interested in has become narrowed. I also respect the past, especially in terms of the movies and arts, more and more. I almost think it's unfortunate that more of my generation doesn't get into such things.

In terms of contemporary music, I sometimes feel like my generation is lacking. However, Indie music seems to be pioneering without producing as much garbage as the rest of the recording industry, so maybe that might be worth checking out.

I look forward to reading more of your work. It seems very honest, and I respect that more than anything.

Monday, September 22, 2008 4:19:00 PM  
OpenID vietkhmerexperience said...

What a beautiful and thoughtful piece. You live your life with purpose and passion and that is the key at any age, isn't it? I truly enjoy reading this blog and I agree with Jimmy H., your honesty is refreshing.

Monday, September 22, 2008 4:53:00 PM  
Blogger Dogwalkmusings said...

"I observe what some journalists are now being called to do-—covering the war, for example, in Iraq and Afghanistan under fire—and I wonder whether I would have been able to handle such assignments."

You, sir, were a journalist when your credentials would never have been questioned. The Michael Wares of today are the exception rather than the rule. You were the rule when it counted. Know that and be proud of that. That is your, and my, legacy and gift to those who look for examples to follow.

Monday, September 22, 2008 9:17:00 PM  
OpenID thedailysnark said...

Like JImmy, I found your blog through Technorati's article and I'm glad I did.

I'm 39 and my dad is going to be 80 in a couple of weeks. I think he's been feeling the same things and asking the same questions about his life. My parents also live in a 55 or older community and they're also noticing the same differences between them and the "youngsters"—those who are about 20 years younger than they are. No matter what your age, I think this happens. I look at kids 20 years younger and just scratch my head.

I don't think your journalist chops would be called into question. These days anyone can research anything online, write about it and call themselves a journalist. You came up in an era of old-fashioned leg work and follow through, and that's true journalism.

Keep writing. Keep being passionate.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008 1:43:00 PM  
Blogger Turambar said...

Same here, Sir. I've also discovered your blog thru Technocrati.

I'm a 35 years old Romanian who wishes you all the best in the world.

Zilele tale sa fie
Ca florile albe de iasomie
Simple si clare ca patru petale
Astfel sa fie trairile tale.


May your days be
Like the white flowers of jasmine.
Simple and clear like four petals
I wish your inner word to be.

Mirel Palada
Bucharest, Romania

:)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008 2:00:00 AM  
Blogger Mildred Garfield said...

What a great post Mort. I'm in the old old group also and so much of what you wrote is just how I feel.

I am careful how I spend my time. If I go out one day after another, I have to stay home the third day.

Movies, plays, music and TV are not what they used to be.
In our day we had talented people that turned out
"good stuff."

But as you said, it's good to be around and see what is going on in this world.

Thursday, September 25, 2008 4:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hoots - After you wife inquired about your ability to detect the aroma of a pineapple or lemon you should have asked, "Pineapple? Remind me again what that is..."

Thursday, September 25, 2008 4:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Hattie said...

Just found your blog and think this piece is great.
We live in Hawaii outside of Hilo and find it suits us best. The climate is a large part of it. Also, we appreciate the friendly attitude of Hawaiians toward old people.
Your life experiences, especially serving in India, must be fascinating. Have you written about them anywhere?

Friday, September 26, 2008 2:03:00 PM  
Blogger joared said...

Your description of and observations about your aging process is excellent. Differences between older generations can be quite profound as I've observed within and between two retirement communities populated by varying social communities that I serve in my work on a regular basis.

My mother's complaint when she lived in a "over 55" community years ago was that she missed exposure to varying age groups. I may change my mind as I get older, but I tend to think a certain mixture of generations is important for integrating our ideas and facilitates our mutual appreciation.

Saturday, September 27, 2008 2:30:00 AM  
Blogger Joe Mama said...

Mort,

As far a questioning your talent as a journalist, many of the greatest actors like Sir Laurence Olivier, never liked watching their own work and questioned their ability.

I'm 58 years old and if I had the money, I'd love to be able to sit at home and watch The Weather Channel. Trying to deal with companies that have little regard for their customers, who try to bait and switch and who employ surly salespeople is too much. It's a lot easier to just do my own research and order from Amazonl.com. The medical community, unfortunately, for the most part, has become just another business.

Saturday, September 27, 2008 4:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Claude said...

Mort, this is such a thought-provoking and interesting post!
I put myself in the old category, (just turned 64) but do realize that there's a lot of difference between the old and the old old, if only in terms of how one's body reacts.
Please keep writing! I don't always comment, but I read you regularly and enjoy your blog.

Saturday, September 27, 2008 2:32:00 PM  
Blogger Mary M. said...

Your blogs are so interesting. I'm of the "old, old" too...as I'm going to be 86 next month.

We have seen so many changes through the years. As you say, the music, movies, etc. are all so different than the type things we grew up with.

I'm thankful for my many younger friends who still invite me to ballgames, cookouts, dinners out and I'm always ready to accept their invitations. I do notice several days in a row....full of activities...then I do have to spend time checking out things on my computer, working on my blog and just relaxing.....then, I'm ready to go again. Feel very fortunate to be up and moving......

Keep up the great blogs....they are very thought provoking. I enjoy them so much.

Thursday, October 02, 2008 8:44:00 AM  
Blogger LadyLuz said...

A very moving post, Mort. I always enjoy visiting you; you have such wisdom and a great way of expressing it. I'm a young old at nearly 68 and can relate to much of what you feel about the dumbing down in the arts and music, as well as dealing with a failing body.

Take comfort that you have a lively, curious mind and know that you are much appreciated in the blogosphere.

Friday, October 03, 2008 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger newwine said...

"Passionate interest" --
Young or old, that is the key, I think. I found your post via Claude's blog and her wonderful picture of the lady listening to her music in the park. I commented "forever young" about that lady and I would like to say the same about you -- the "passionate interest" shines out in both of you. There are many young, middle-aged and older people who have lost all interest, and THAT is the sad thing, sadder than having to husband one's physical energy. Easy for me to say at 63, but I also feel more ups and downs, energy-wise, than I used to. And I also look back at my life with a sense of bemusement -- I recognize my younger self, of course -- but I share Bob Dylan's view of his younger self in many ways. "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now." It is the paring down to essentials and the ability to turn in and reflect that increases with age, and there is a peace that comes with that, and with the courage to say no to keeping up with every fad. You are forever young, I think, and will always be.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 9:40:00 AM  

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