We can learn a lot from “old” people

running on the beach, sunrise
It’s a new day. Get moving.

By Bruce Stambaugh

When I turned 70, I received lots of celebratory wishes and unsolicited advice. Like a 70-year-old needs advice.

One ditty was the seven and 70 rule. The idea is that seven-year-olds will say anything, and 70 year-olds have earned the right by default to espouse whatever they want. Clearly, I didn’t know or obey that tenet. Wanted or not, I’ve been offering my opinions my entire life.

Nevertheless, I’ve done a lot of thinking since hitting that personal milestone. I feel fortunate, grateful, honored, humbled as I review my life. I have many, many kind people to thank for giving me challenges I didn’t think I could meet, opportunities I never expected, and critiquing I didn’t want to hear but definitely needed. To steal a movie title, it’s been a wonderful life.

Best of all, life continues, but for how long? None of us really knows for sure. As the saying goes, embrace each day as if it were your last. It just might be.

That somber thought used to bother me, scare me even. As a teenager, I thought I’d live forever. I know that’s not going to happen. I read the obituaries every morning, and I find the life summaries of too many people my age or younger.

Death where is thy sting? Many a sermon has already been preached on that topic. I won’t add to that litany.

Instead, I want to share a purposeful phenomenon that seems to resonate with many seniors. Generally speaking, we’re not afraid of death anymore.

After I retired as a public educator, I began my second career in community relations and marketing at a retirement community near my former Ohio home. I wasn’t there long until a common philosophy became apparent among the residents. As they aged, they were happier in their lives, despite increased physical and mental afflictions, reduced agility, and less energy overall. I recently learned that gerontologists confirm these observations. As people’s bodies decline, instead of feeling worse about themselves, they feel better.

horse and buggy
What’s around the corner?
Given their settings and expected elderly ailments, logic would dictate the opposite. Why had death indeed lost its sting for them? In general, they needed less in life and from life. They had given their all and were genuinely happy for that. Also, they looked forward to what they called “going home.”

Regrets? Sure, they had a few, just as I do. But that alone could not deter their enthusiasm for whatever came their way. They still expressed anxiety about all of life’s catastrophes they saw on TV, in the newspapers, and online.

But these were folks who had survived The Great Depression, who knew the value of work, being thrifty, conserving for the future and for future generations. They may not have liked many of the social changes that flew in the face of what they believed. But for the most part, neither did they let that bother them or think less of those who behaved or felt differently than they did. Their knowledge and experience taught them that. In my book, that is the very definition of wisdom.

I admired their gumption, fortitude, love of life, and their focus on being in the presence of each moment. They were ready for whatever came next. I’m trying my best to model that attitude, too, to my wife, my family, my friends, my neighbors, to whomever I meet.

Like my octogenarian friends at the retirement community, I’m ready for the next chapter of my life to unfold, one day, one person, one event, one glorious sunrise, one breathtaking sunset at a time.

Florida, sunset, Amelia River
Even at life’s low tide beauty abounds.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

A good day made better

Sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

The dawn broke cloudy with a promise of needed sunshine. Compared to the previous gloomy day of overcast skies, gusty winds and chilly rains, the sun, even just peeks of it, would be more than welcome. It didn’t disappoint.

Blue sky by Bruce StambaughBy mid-morning, the layered blanket of grayness drifted east. Stray cumulous clouds took turns hiding the sun, until they tired of the senseless game. By noon, the wonderful warming sun had the entire blue sky all to itself.

By that point, I had already embarked on my dedicated plan for the day. Having been holed up for several days due to illness, I was ready to get out and about. I headed to one of my favorite places, the retirement community where I used to work and where my folks and my wife’s parents used to live.

I needed to visit with an elderly friend from church. Fannie’s welcoming smile always makes me feel right at home. This day was no exception. I enjoyed the comfort of her old wooden rocker while she chatted away.

Of course I had to hassle the office staff with whom I used to commiserate for five years. Aides, nurses, therapists, and other staff members greeted me as well. The place and people were as gracious as ever.

While there, I decided to check on several other residents I knew. All are old enough to be my parents. Each one always asks how I am doing, and I always respond, “Pretty good for an old guy.” They laugh, refute my declaration, and assure me that I’m still a young man.

I don’t always feel that way. But with every visit there, I come away feeling blessed and motivated. It seems an oxymoron to be renewed at a retirement center. But it’s not by any measure.

I see people I have known all of my adult life, some since I was a child. Despite their various ills and infirmities, I still envision each just as I knew them in earlier days.

One room school by Bruce Stambaugh

There was Betty, my favorite homeroom mother in elementary school; Eileen, the most pleasant of cooks at the school where I taught; Ethel, a model of encouragement for many, and Frances, who radiates sunshine on the gloomiest of days.

Fred, the retired minister, filled me in on his trip to Virginia, hardly missing a detail. His 91-year-old mind was sharp, his eyes bright as he recalled his reunion with friends, brothers, children and grandchildren.

There are others to be sure. Each has captivating stories to tell, yet they sincerely want to know how I am doing, and my wife, too. I always answer that question by saying with a twinkle and a smile, “She’s as mean as ever.”

My senior friends laugh and scold me in the same sentence, proving that they indeed are still deserving of my respect and honor. It heartens me to see and hear them laugh as if they were 40 and not 90. They ooze wisdom.

As they settled in for their lunch, I headed for the car. The dominating sun had warmed the once chilled fall air. It was a beautiful day, made more so by the lovely and loving folks who call me “young man.”

The day had promised to be a good one. My mature friends made it even nicer than the amiable weather.

Buggy on fall day by Bruce Stambaugh

This column appeared in The Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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