All the talk surrounding ways to protect ourselves during the spread of the coronavirus has got me thinking. They keep saying the “elderly” should take special precautions. But who are they talking about? Who are the elderly? Am I one?
I guess that when classified strictly by age, I am. Honestly, there’s no question. I’m 67 and will hit 68 all too soon. That’s a big chunk of my Biblically allotted three score and 10. But that number was set a long time ago. I hope Higher Powers factor in inflation and add a few years nowadays.
Besides, I may remember the 1950s, but I don’t feel old. Well, not really.
It’s true I don’t have the stamina I had when I was younger, but I make up for that with hard-won guile.
And while I sometimes roll my eyes when younger people start talking about politics or music, I think that’s just because wisdom comes from experience and sometimes you really had to be there to understand why it’s worth making a fuss about whether you grew up a Beatles fan or a Rolling Stones fan. (I rolled with the Stones, of course.)
Still, the more I thought about it, the more I thought just trying to cast a person as “elderly” or “not elderly” didn’t really go far enough. What counts as old nowadays? AARP lets folks in at 50. The government says you can wait until you’re 72 to start drawing down your IRA, that money you’re saving for when you’re old.
I suspect that one single category isn’t enough to portray the “certain age” that qualifies as no-longer-young. As any number of bumper stickers tell us, there are all kinds of old people out there and there are lots of ways to be elderly without being old. One can be a proud family matriarch or a still-skydiving-at-age-80 kind of guy.
I thought we could use more consideration about just who the elderly really are. So, here are some kinds of “seniors” to consider when trying to decide just who really is “elderly.” Consider it the start of a Field Guide to Retirees and Other Old Folks, just like the guides for birds or wildflowers. Only less reliable.
Here, then, are a few types to watch for in the wild.
Yodas. These are The Elders who inspire anguish in their kids and adulation in their grandkids and can still do what is needed to hold the clan together. They’re family centered. They plan and stage-manage family events to share the wisdom that comes with their graying crowns. You can see them at the beach, sipping gin-and-tonics or bottled Coca-Colas while the grandkids frolic in the surf. And they still host holiday dinners for all the cousins. Often, you admire them, but they still make you feel inadequate.
The Won’t-Let-It-Goes. They’re convinced the family, the family heritage, or at least the family business will never make it without them and the kids will never be ready to take over and don’t want to anyway, so they’ll just keep working, thank you very much. They deny they’re getting older and defy you to say differently.
Seniors Starting Over. These are the “life starts over with Social Security” folks. With work, kids and college days and costs – their own and their kids’ –behind them, they can start thinking about travelling to distant shores or learning to play ukulele or jumping out of airplanes. They’re slowing a bit, but fun to be around.
The Hobbyists. They know what they like and they stick to it. They’ve probably spent their whole working lives just waiting for a chance to lock themselves in their basements and get to woodworking or quilting or writing the Great American Novel or building massive layouts for their model trains or slot cars. These folks are rarely seen in public, except at gatherings of like-minded hobbyists. Otherwise, they’re just too busy to be bothered.
The Forever Young. These folks find their 60s bring rejuvenation. They’ve worked hard all their lives for family and fortune, and now they’re loading up the RV and hitting the highway to see as many National Parks as they can before they die. They can be fun to hang with, too, if you can ever catch up with them.
The Still Got it and Still Working It. Some folks just don’t know when to quit. They’re no different at 80 than they were at 40. For them, snorkeling, rebuilding a carburetor or dancing The Shag at age 75 presents no problem.
The Old-Fashioned. They remember vividly how things used to be done, don’t understand why things had to change and they ask a lot of questions. Weren’t movies better when they told real stories and not just ones from comic books? Wasn’t music better when it was made by people and not machines? Wasn’t it better when cars were bigger, houses were cheaper, and nobody had to eat kale? For them, life’s a puzzle nowadays.
The Stick-In-The-Muds. These folks really do act like they’re old. For them, everything was better in the Old Days, whenever those days happen to have been. The economy, music, movies, the government, the newspapers, the phones, heck even the hometown baseball team — all were better 10, 20, 30 years ago. These folks can seem happiest when they have something to complain about.
When I looked over my groups, I realized I didn’t really belong in any of them. Some parts of me fit into some parts of them, but I didn’t feel altogether comfortable in any single one. So, I made up another category.
The Just-Happy-To-Be-Heres. Me, I’m just happy to still be around. I can do pretty much what I want and when I want. I’m eager to keep rolling along. As long as the Stones can still do it, I figure so can I.
But for now, we should all just keep our distance, wash our hands and stay safe.