After the last of the party guests had departed, I sat down with my friend to inquire about the obvious. “How does it feel to be 80?” I asked.
“It doesn’t feel like anything. Today I feel pretty much like yesterday and the day before that. All the days, the weeks, and the years together, and I still feel mostly the same as always. Just the same old me, but older,” he replied.
I’ve heard this before from others and have experienced it myself. While we grow older on the outside, the same person wakes up on the inside each morning. Hopefully, one grows a little more thoughtful. Perhaps, we seem to take longer to get things done. But still and all, we remain relatively unchanged over the years in how it feels to be ourselves.
So, I took a different tack. “Is this what you expected being 80 would be like?” I asked.
“Oh, my, no,” he replied this time. “80 always sounded so old. Back when I was growing up, almost no one lived that long. Yes, there were a few old duffers 80 or 90, but they looked ancient and they were as rare as fossils. They were all bent over, grey and wrinkled. Mostly they just sat around smelling kind of funny . . . Now, I know several people in their 80’s and all of us are active. A couple ski, one is still working part time, we all get together a few times a week for walks. I think all but one of us has his teeth and all of us have plans for the future.”
“The future? What are you planning?” I asked.
“Well, nothing surprising,” he smiled. “I’ve got a great-granddaughter graduating college out west. I’m planning on attending that next summer. I’ve never been to Washington D. C.; it would be nice to visit the Capitol. My daughter is afraid I’ll get lost there or something, but I’ve still got a few trips left in me,” he continued.
“Things are still going good, but 80 is 80 and no one can be sure when time will call a halt to my traveling. Until then I’ll take my trip and pay a little more for the extra legroom. ’Don’t want to die with some adventures still on the shelf.”
That brought up a question about frailty.
“Oh, I don’t worry about that. I’d hate to be a burden and I don’t want to be a vegetable, but if someone will wheel me over to where the sunshine is warm or I can hear the birds and smell the flowers, I’ll take that . . . One of the problems young people have is, you think if things can’t be the way you want them, then life isn’t worth living. By the time you get to 80, you find that even when everything doesn’t go your way, life has a way of working things out. I could never have planned to live this long. How would I have even known how? Yet I am still going and life continues to be a marvel. Even if I can’t have as big a piece as I’d like, I’ll like the piece that I can have.”
Aging in place: it can be its own reward.
Scott Funk is Vermont’s leading Aging in Place advocate, writing and speaking around the state on issues of concern to retirees and their families.