The confluence of two celebratory occasions, Father’s Day, and my birthday, leaves me in a pensive mood today. As I have told you before, I have not fathered any children, a fact that is among my regrets in this life. Unlike Mick Jagger, whose youngest child was born in 2016 when Mick was already in his seventies, I do not expect a new baby being in the cards for me.
Now, please understand. I feel fortunate to be physically “fit as a fiddle” and, except for an occasional and disturbing short term memory lapse, mentally intact. By nature, I am irreverent and youthful. I take after my dad in this way, and he lived happily to the ripe old age of ninety-six. (Between us, I would like to break the old man’s mark!)
In just a few days I will turn 71 years old, yet it does not require much imagination on my part to visualize that my personal circumstances might look far different 10 years out from today. It is beyond dispute that the proportion of older adults who will require assistance with the activities of everyday living, such as bathing or dressing, for example, increases with age. In my own age bracket that percentage is around 20%; however, for those age 85, it is nearer 40%. The risk of suffering one or more serious health problems is also far greater for these older folks.
It seems to me evident that, unless you are extraordinarily wealthy or privileged, maintaining one’s independence with age goes hand in hand with maintaining decent health. I see well enough if I am wearing my specs but this does not change the fact that my vision is nowhere near as good as it was in my youth. I still play racquetball, but this does not change the fact that my balance has gotten so bad it is a miracle if I manage to get through a match without tripping over my own feet.
I know that I ought to take up additional exercises that might improve my balance. I know that I ought to take better care of my teeth and gums. I know that I ought to schedule another colonoscopy. I know these things but still procrastinate.
I am far from alone in terms of being a childless senior citizen –among my cohort the number approaches 16% — but I would nonetheless be remiss if I fail to take steps today that could help me to remain independent and self-sufficient for as long as possible. Lee’s early demise has taught me that it is foolish to take things for granted. The fact of her passing not only changed my broader outlook on life but also shifted my priorities, witness, for example, my current job status as a mostly retired lawyer.
If I continue to temp the Fates in this manner and fail, then I will have no one to blame but myself. Indeed, I dread the words, “assisted living.” I fear the prospect that I could end up living in a place reserved exclusively for the aged, surrounded by other diminished old folks, with few, if any, visitors, with limited opportunities to explore the outside world, living life without variety, no spice, reduced to a monotonous existence consisting of daily routine and deadly sameness. Remaining independent means doing whatever it takes to resist any impulse I might harbor toward inertia.
This will involve making the effort to maintain my personal connections while developing new connections. Ideally, these new connections will include people who are in different age groups from mine. I am happy to live in a large city, in a vibrant and demographically varied neighborhood to boot, a place where it is possible to live without being utterly dependent on automobiles. Today we enjoy grocery delivery services and other modern services that make a neighborhood-based existence possible.
At the same time, remaining independent also demands that I continue to grow as an individual, despite technically qualifying as an “old fart.” Playing and studying music remains an important part of my life, as does writing. Fortunately, I retain my curiosity and an ardent desire to learn new things.
For now, my plan is to continue to volunteer for things that I believe in, for example, helping to staff the neighborhood food pantry, tutoring adults to read, and, starting next month, acting as a local “ambassador” to a young foreign visitor, who will be coming to the United States to acquire new knowledge or skills that could help make their own country a little better place to live.
Oh, and I also plan to keep on making modest contributions on this site.