My father advised, “Wait ‘til you’re my age, kid!” Mama preached in Greek: “Where you are, I have been. Where I am, you are coming.” My immigrant parents were exceptional role models regarding “we never know where life will lead us,” and “never give up.”
Blessed to have arrived at that place in life my parents hoped for me, I am a maturing senior citizen. I finally “get” the unique “hands on” education achieved outside youth’s supreme universe.
Aging is serious business and uniquely distinct for each senior. Its vast and varied characteristics cannot be adequately covered in one newspaper article. While the negatives of growing older, sometimes acutely problematic, easily come to mind, more effort is required to recognize the varied positives.
Most of our friends, many family members, and some readers of this newspaper are seniors. Younger folks may wonder: “Besides the date on your driver’s licenses, what makes you aware of ‘senior citizenhood’?”
A few signs of my own awareness: glancing at the mirror; realizing I move around more slowly; not understanding most TV commercials selling technology; needing to figure out what “ageism” is all about; and frustration with passwords and computers.
An example is the iPhone my husband and I were advised to buy to easily photograph our growing grandson. It’s not merely a phone— it’s a pocket-size computer! Fifty years ago, I marveled at the ultra-technologically-advanced, single, 1970s computer which took up a massive room, (air-conditioned 24/7) at the aerospace company where my husband worked as an electronics engineer. Now I’m walking around with an amazing computer in my purse. But, Apple, please don’t update it anymore. Every time you do, I need new lessons on how to use it.
Remember old telephones? Black? With dials? Dependability was their middle name. Answering a ring, we heard the voice of an authentic human being, not a predatory machine. Avoiding scam phone calls is, now, an everyday nuisance.
One sure thing in life, they say, is change. And, it’s how we handle change that counts. Physical limitations, never experienced in younger days, come to my mind.
Sidewalk curbs are the thick edges of cement which separate streets from city sidewalks: an easy lift of legs taking us from down here to up there, maybe an entire four inches. Children joyfully jump up and down street curbs, two feet together, like I did as a kid. Curbs are easily managed without a thought — until arthritis debuts, and tens of candles decorate our birthday cakes. Grateful I can still walk, I need a cane to climb challenging curbs, and now understand legislating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Aging requires planning ahead: perhaps, eventually hiring helpers for day-to-day life-management. Growing older is complicated— and educational — teaching patience and flexibility. It helps us understand it’s OK that others’ lifestyles and needs in life are different from our own.
How onerous aging must have been for my elderly grandparents who lived their entire lives in sunny but ancient Greek villages without indoor plumbing, electricity, or easy access to professional medical help. They devoutly looked to faith to ease their frustrations, and repeated old sayings to brighten their toughest hours: “Kallitera arga para poté” (Better late than never). “Kai mi herotera” (It could be worse). “Voithame Theé mou (God, help me).
We, 21st century seniors, gratefully enjoy ever-advancing medical knowledge and so many benefits which never existed for our grandparents, or our parents. What does remain the same? The necessity of continued, caring bonds with family and friends. Loving family, good friends, and friendly neighbors can “make our day” in-person, by phone, mail, text, email, and even as a warm memory. More good exists than bad.
Wise sayings, in English bring humor: the Pennsylvania Dutch “Too soon old and too late smart.” Actress Bette Davis’ “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” And Mark Twain’s “Do not complain about growing old. It’s a privilege denied to many.”
Fellow seniors, our lives may have changed but our green planet’s gorgeous natural wonders still invite our enjoyment and appreciation, even via our PBS stations. TV and books can transport us to other worlds without leaving home. Tons of good books are available, in print and on audio (like listening to radio). Wonderful music can uplift our souls. Newspapers keep us current. Precious photos help us recall good people and past good times. Thousands of blessings occupy the span of life known as old age. Our assignment? Remembering to count them.
Constance M. Constant is a writer based in Southern California. She has authored two books about Greek-American life and history, focusing on the generation of Greek immigrants who arrived between 1890 and 1930 — and their children.