After 3 months I reckon that being 80 is no big deal. There have been no major changes; my back is still bent and I still walk like a question mark. I recognized and greeted a couple of old acquaintances yesterday – they are both pushing 90 and I’m not sure they knew who I was – my appetite is great and I can still read the small print. What did happen is that this morning, whilst doing the crossword, I found myself sitting with the answer to a clue hanging off the end of my tongue and not making it all the way to the pen.
That’s the only change I can detect, a suggestion of slow retrieval from the vast storage system I shlep around with me. The filing system is full, most of the drawers overflowing. ‘Family and Friends’ is pretty full, ‘Engineering and Information Technology’ is bursting and has a notice hanging on the front – “no new information accepted here’. ‘Culture’ has small spaces available between the books, music and writing, but the worst of the lot is ‘Department of Useless Information’ which houses miscellaneous and little used stuff. It has huge globs of information hanging from it hoping it will still be called on to provide an answer. There is no ‘Full’ notice so I keep pushing more and more in there hoping it will find a place. But I’m starting to think it’s a waste of time.
We all build these huge storage systems for ourselves, convinced they are made of concrete and will be there forever. It’s not like that at all. They are made of some kind of Jello and are highly susceptible to outside influence. In extreme cases they melt and leave one with no memory at all.
Oh yes, the character I couldn’t remember in the story of Jason and the Argonauts was Helle. How on earth could I forget him?
There is to be an exhibition of flower paintings here at the retirement home starting next week. I heard about it a few days ago and hurried to convert a half finished painting into a suitable piece for the exhibition. Then I decided to paint a serious flower painting and got myself hopelessly involved. But it’s not over yet and who knows, I may still produce something suitable.
Some weeks ago I painted a picture with trees in the foreground and heavy concrete and steel towers and cranes rising behind, a sort of “Disappearing Forest” scene, something no one would like to hang over the fireplace. Yesterday I had it on my easel wondering what I could do to it make it more presentable when someone said something about the flower exhibition again. I grabbed a pot of white and painted over the original scene. This morning I sat in front of the blank canvas trying to drum a flower scene into my head.
A few minutes later, I grabbed wide brush and went to work. I worked all day. This morning I looked at it and painted it out again. The canvas is getting heavy with all the coats of paint. So I painted it out again and began something different. Then a granddaughter who knows about colors and design came over, looked at it and made a suggestion. Out it went again. I tried to follow her suggestion, but went to take a nap somewhere in the middle of the repainting exercise and missed a crucial action. Out again.
I’m working flat out now, and finally little flowers that meet my approval are appearing. It’s drying overnight and I‘ll be back at it tomorrow. Will it make the exhibition specifications? I doubt it.
It’s the Festival of Weeks in the Hebrew calendar and one of the traditions faithfully observed by everyone and not only the faithful, is the eating of dairy foods such as cheesecake. So a notice appeared on the retirement home notice board calling for residents to bake their cheese cakes and bring them down to the dining room at 4pm on the eve of the festival. Sounds innocent, doesn’t it. This is the throwing down a of public gauntlet! Do you think there is any woman in this retirement home who doesn’t know that her cheesecake is the best in the world?
I will be there, not bearing a cheesecake, but ready to sample and taste. I will be the leading unofficial, unpaid cheesecake taster and judge. It’s a “no-brainer”. There are something like 180 elderly, er, Golden Aged women living here. Average age is about 80, meaning cooking experience per woman is about 50 years. Simple multiplication says that the total years of cooking experience is 4,000 years. Man, cheesecake with a track record like that behind it just has to be something special.
Today I wandered into the small supermarket here in the building and watched the action: the grabbing of packets of flour, the scrabbling over tubs of white, smooth cheese, cottage cheese and other cheeses. I saw these veteran cooks staggering back to their apartments, weighed down with cheesecake makings, their faces set in grim concentration, making sure that no ingredient had been forgotten.
Soon the kneading and rolling and cutting will begin. Old baking pans will appear from the backs of the small cupboards where they reside waiting for this bake-off. The ovens will heat up and finally the aroma of baking will fill the corridors.
At 3:30 I will be staked out in the dining room, my little bag of anti-cholesterol pills in my pocket and my mouth watering in anticipation. I hope you get some too…
The majority of retirement homes offer a variety of activities so that residents can enjoy pastimes that suit their preferences. It seems that many Golden Agers have concerns that they won’t be able to find a community that truly supports their particular artistic interests. Actually, many seniors who move into retirement homes also find that they have the time, for the first time in their lives, to try painting or ceramics or other pastimes.
Let’s say you are a writer. All you have to do on moving-in day is find yourself a corner or niche in your new apartment, set up your computer and you’re back in business. No big deal. If you had been involved in acting, look for a drama group in the home. No drama group – start one yourself… The cultural conveners in the retirement homes don’t know everything and they will be grateful for an expert’s advice on how to get a new activity going.
Often, a change in lifestyle requires a change in mindset. While age is marked by physical and emotional changes, there is also a renewed opportunity to find meaning and purpose as life shifts. It’s a time to try new things, and still enjoy what has always made you happy. A change in scenery may require a little more effort on your part to find local resources that support your craft, encourage it, and help you thrive.
The term “Creative Aging” describes the aging of an artist very well. If you were creative all your life, whether it be painting or sculpting, singing, acting or making music, writing prose or poetry, your life in a retirement home is the place where you can really make your creative streak blossom. If you’re not the creative type, get involved. Who knows, you may discover new things about yourself – hey, what about a Self Discovery Group in your retirement home?
Do you ever think about your retirement, how it will be, what you will do, how you will pass the hours of the day? Forget the money side for a moment – that’s part of a different dream (or nightmare). After a certain age, we all begin to take a look into our futures, wondering how life will be.
Life is totally unpredictable. No one knows what the next day will bring. Ask any Syrian and they will tell you how all their dreams slid out from under their feet overnight. But revolutions aside, you will need something to keep you occupied after you have stopped working. What will your days look like between sleeping and eating? What happens when you decide to give up golf or get tired of shopping or your eyes give you trouble and you can’t read any longer?
I live in a retirement home so I see what retirees do. Some sit around in little knots for hours at a time, drinking coffee and either gossiping or trying to solve the problems of the world. Others play bridge or other card games at every opportunity. But these are time passing activities. I see a few cars driving out in the morning and returning in the evening, so these are people who are either going to work or maybe to baby-sit for the day.
There is shopping, of course, and I am surprised at how much time it takes. It’s the whole deal, the parking, the shopping, the standing in line to check out, getting the stuff into the car and then up to one’s apartment. But shopping doesn’t count as a retirement activity.
One needs a retirement plan, a reason to get up in the morning. That’s what you should start thinking about now.
Every morning I drop into the chair in front of the computer and with a click of the mouse I turn on Radio Mozart, a radio station that I found on the internet. It plays Mozart’s music 24 hours a day interrupted occasionally by very short announcements.
Can you imagine how different our world would be if Mozart had been born in the last 50 years, in ‘our’ time, in the years of medicine and healthcare, years of recognizing and understanding and fostering genius? Instead, he lived his short 35 year life, from 1756 to 1791, in days where he had little chance of reaching old age. Of his 5 siblings only 2 made it past the first year, an indication of how fragile life was in those days.
But it’s what he achieved in those few years that really count. He composed over 600 works, an incredible output of work, considering that it includes operas and symphonies, long complicated works that he couldn’t have completed in a day. In between he struggled on a daily basis with family matters, health issues and making a living. In today’s world he been fawned upon from every angle throughout his life by well-wishers and in his Golden Years would have continued producing many more masterpieces on a finely-tuned grand piano in a retirement home.
With today’s medicines and healthcare he could easily have attained a great age, continuing his genius to the very end, surrounded by admiring fans and music lovers. Of course he would have had to fight off all the suggestions and corrections that the residents would have offered. You can almost hear them:
“But Dear Maestro Mozart, if you reverse the last three bars it will sound much better!”
“No, No! Not the violin here! The cello is much more suitable for this!”
Perhaps he was spared after all…
You have arrived safely at age 74 and are thinking about retiring and moving to a place where you can enjoy your Golden Years. Somewhere in your country a crazy youngster gets his hands on an easy-to-operate missile and one day, in a fit of anger and hatred, he fires it and kills a dozen people. All hell breaks loose and in a matter of days your country is turned upside down.
Day after day I watch the news on the television and see what’s going on in Syria. I sometimes imagine myself in such a situation. You have worked hard all your life and built something, whether it is a property portfolio, a stock portfolio, money in the bank. One day a revolution comes to your country or city. It was an innocent looking demonstration at first, perhaps social activists or students demanding something or other. It spread slowly, all the time gaining strength and members. Soon it became a full-scale revolution. It’s time to take action to save yourself and your family.
You head to the bank to draw out your life savings but the bank has run out of money or is scared to open its doors. You want to leave your stricken country but not without your nest-egg. You wait another day or a week and then they close the port, train station and airport and you are now truly stuck.
All services, including the utility companies and your HMO have come to an end, shells are raining down and you are in a blind panic. Soon you are out on the street, together with thousands of others like you. No money, little food, no job and no prospects of an income. You were not an activist on one side or the other, never a politician, never in the military. Your only claim to fame was that you always had a good name for being an honest businessman.
Now, perhaps for the first time, you have time on your hands. The retirement home is the ideal place to sit and reminisce, to think back on your long life and write down some of your experiences so that your grandchildren, great-grandchildren and maybe generations after them will get a taste of the times you lived in. Don’t you sometimes wonder what your grandfather’s life was like? Wouldn’t you like to have something written by him describing his times?
Unless you are an accomplished writer you will not manage get it all down on paper, but you can choose a few incidents in your life that will make interesting reading for your descendants. I have tried it on more than one occasion and I found it extremely difficult; even writing down the opening word was a problem. Then I had an idea. I wrote a letter to one of my grandsons and in a matter of minutes the whole project fell into place.
In the letter I described an incident that occurred on one of my holidays. I wrote the ‘bones’ of the little story. When that was done I fleshed it out by adding details of the meals we had, the names of some of my friends who were with me, described the clothes we wore and told little stories about what we did, trying to give the reader an idea of the world I lived in – what it was like back in 1940 when I was a youngster and a great war was raging in Europe. In the next chapter I wrote about my school, the teachers, my friends and described what we got up to after school hours. The exercise became easier as I wrote about my parents and siblings, our house and our lifestyle.
Is anyone ever going to read it? I have no idea, but I did it!
We attended another funeral yesterday, this time of a good friend whose heart finally gave out after some years of sputtering along. He was 77, a very respectable age even in these times of increasing longevity, but many of those at the cemetery were stunned at his early departure. A visit to the cemetery turns one’s mind to questions of life and death and a whole slew of whys and wherefores and if only he had…, or perhaps they should have…? There are no answers. It’s all part of the mystery of life. Not everyone is destined for their 80s and 90s and not everyone has the health, luck and genes that pull one along to those ages.
The search for long life is in full swing and the results are quite spectacular and will become even more so in the coming years. Insurance companies are having problems with long life and are racing to update their actuarial tables. Birthday parties are hitting new highs and wedding anniversaries are making it past the 60th and even the 70th. There are a couple of residents here in the retirement home in their mid-nineties who are still driving. Will we be seeing 100 year old drivers texting on their iPhones while doing four-wheel slides around the corners in the years to come? Frightening thought, isn’t it?
People have strong ideas about why they live longer. If you ask the Japanese, it’s fish and vegetables. If you ask the Chinese, it’s green tea and ginseng, the French say it’s the wine and the Americans swear by exercise. In a current Longevity Genes Project, sixty percent of the subjects said it was due to being happy.
Whatever it is, enjoy every moment of your time on earth!
After a year of residence in the retirement home and spending hours reorganizing our lives to suit our new surroundings, I finally tackled the phone messaging system. The home has a private telephone exchange which, of course is ‘different’ and understood only by the manufacturer. I have tried it a few times and I cannot understand the instructions. Now I tried it once again to make sure it was still impossible to understand and came to the same conclusion; it cannot be done – by me anyway. There is an instruction on the phone, a long screed of instructions. I’m sure it starts with a capital letter and ends with a full stop. Finally I admitted it. “I’m licked! We need a grandchild in here, someone who has the same education as this voice on the phone.”
I went through the list quickly: one at university, one free for another couple of hours, one in the army and three in school. They of course would be delighted to come and help. I called Number 2. She arrived smiling half an hour later and I briefed her. 30 seconds later we had a clear concise message telling the caller where he or she was. “What was the problem, Pop?”
Remember how simple all these pesky little chores were? You had something to do; you read the instructions and in no time the job was done. I think we older citizens should begin a campaign: if we can’t understand the instructions by the second reading, we won’t buy the product. Furthermore, if the instructions are not in the local language we are not buying.
Have you noticed that when you call your middle-aged son or daughter – all golden agers have middle aged children – to help you with something technical, their immediate response is: I’ll get back to you – I have to ask my son/daughter. The hi-tech revolution seems to have skipped an entire generation. All those in favor of a lo-tech retirement home, raise their hands.