What is my most favorite thing, next to spending time with family? Give me a bunch of old friends, a cozy setting, good food and nostalgic music. It’s great to be with friends who allow you to be yourself, won’t judge you and with whom you can just let it all hang out.
When you have history together, you don’t need explanations. You can go from one subject to the next and not have to give a backgrounder, or present a flashback of sorts. You are all on the same page.
This is why many from my generation are not too keen on making friends or meeting new people. My writer friend says, “It’s too tedious to speak with footnotes.” How do we explain, for example, why at the first sign of a storm, we go panic buying? That’s because we lived through the same war.
Younger people don’t understand why we cringe when we see men wearing hats in the house. We were brought up knowing this is not proper, the same way that we know that no one goes to church in shorts or wearing slippers, and why gentlemen stand up when a lady or older person enters the room. That’s our era.
More often than not, my first reaction to an invitation is ask who will be there. I want to be at ease wherever I go. Old friends, they say, are like old shoes. They may not be in the best shape and perhaps are no longer in style, but ah, the comfort!
One needs to make an effort to still circulate. I am tired of going to wakes. And so, in spite of my initial reluctance, I talk myself into accepting.
It is a refreshing experience every time. As wonderful as it is to reminisce with old friends, it is an adventure to listen to what others bring into the mix. Suddenly, we have a fresh idea, a brand-new outlook, another way of looking at life.
I find it exhilarating to see new faces and listen to voices with different points of view. I am only now learning to stay open to diverse opinions from people of all ages. We may not always agree, but there’s the beauty of it. We can draw so much from one another.
When the experiences and lessons learned in my long journey meet the fresh and sometimes naïve pronouncements from the young, there is no collision, no confrontation and no argument. There is a respectful regard for either side; neither is belittled nor dismissed. Everyone learns.
We can start with our own family. How well do we know them? I am blessed with men and women, boys and girls of all ages in all sizes and shapes, whose interests are without limit. Entitled by seniority, we speak and expect them to listen. Let us not forget that it works both ways.
Many of my contemporaries have stopped mingling with the rest of society. There is an uncertainty, an insecurity that creeps in with the years. With age, one becomes less mobile. Some of the most gregarious people I know have succumbed to this feeling of inadequacy and have isolated themselves.
Christmas has become a difficult season for many of us. The spirit is willing, but—you know the rest.
I remember my life in America when, a couple of weeks before the holidays, all my evenings were dedicated to just walking up and down the malls searching for “just the right thing.”
On my recent Florida visit, I sat around a lot. After walking in and out of a few shops and buying a couple of things I did not need, I gave up. Armed with a Starbucks decaf and a soft pretzel from Auntie Anne’s, I happily sat and watched people walk by, while my daughter and granddaughters hit the shops.
I noticed that even in the off-season, many seniors just go to malls to pass the time. They look lonely. Some look frightened. If I lived there today, would I be one of them?
Many years ago I remember walking down Market Street in San Francisco every day on my way to work. There was a Foster’s Cafeteria on the corner of 7th. It was a clean, almost antiseptic looking low-priced self-serve restaurant. I always saw elderly men and women eating alone. I remember thinking: Oh God, I hope I am never like them! I couldn’t think of anything lonelier than having a meal all by myself.
I have learned a lot since then. I guess I am older and wiser. Well, older anyway. Today, I often eat by myself. It is by choice, and that makes a difference. Once in a while it’s because I want to hear myself think. Other times I would rather not compete with laptops, phones and other gadgets.
Age makes one sensitive, at times overly and unreasonably so. Young people are often oblivious to what they call our “hang-ups.” It is difficult not to take offense. But again, it is our choice.
People my age have the privilege of escape. If it gets too much for us, we can quietly retreat to the peace and quiet of our sanctum sanctorum.
But let’s not do that too soon, and not too often. It takes courage to stay the course. But we must!
Who knows if our presence can still impact someone else’s life with an “aha” moment or two? Maybe something we say may be the very thing they need to hear. Who knows if a word they speak, or a story they tell touches our hearts? And despite our years, we too may have that one amazing moment when life suddenly takes on new meaning, and our world starts spinning again. Who knows, indeed?