In my father’s old age, he became fixated on the idea that the world would be a better place if everyone drove under 55 mph. He had read someplace that, above that speed, cars weren’t as efficient and wasted gas. Whenever he started railing against fast driving, my siblings and I rolled our eyes: There goes dad again.
He was full of opinions about what was wrong with the world and how to fix it, often embarrassing his children and wife. He made a habit of telling restaurant owners the music was too loud, which made his children cringe. Funnily enough, I now find myself complaining about the same thing, as friends and I try to talk over the cacophony.
I guess it’s inevitable that most of us turn into our parents as we get older, very certain about what’s wrong with the world and how to fix it. I realized I’m becoming one of those opinionated old people who writes letters to the editor; goes up to cars sitting in parking lots with their engines running and lectures the driver about befouling the air; reminds people that dogs aren’t allowed on this trail; and lectures total strangers on why they should not pick flowers in a public park.
Perhaps one of the advantages of old age is that we’re not threatening; the two women picking the flowers weren’t likely to slug me or even yell at me; more likely, they went back to their cars and laughed about the crazy old lady sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong.
Is it that, as we age, we’re uncomfortable with change? Or that we’re wiser and can see more clearly? Or are we braver now and not as afraid to voice our opinions?
But that’s not always the case. A male friend who is in his early 80s, while standing by the side of the road, once motioned to a driver to slow down around a tight curve. The driver pulled his car over, got within inches of my friend’s face, and threatened him with bodily harm. Luckily, my friend was able to walk away, unhurt but shaken.
I know that not all seniors are as opinionated as me—or my father, bless his soul. But when you’ve lived a long time and seen many changes, it’s hard to resist pronouncing judgment on current trends, especially when they go against how you were raised, such as women who are overweight shouldn’t wear tight clothes. But I’m equally certain that tattoos over your whole body are ugly; today’s parents spoil their children; and young people take too many selfies and are on their cell phones too much.
Is it that, as we age, we’re uncomfortable with change? Or that we’re wiser and can see more clearly? Or are we braver now and not as afraid to voice our opinions? When young, especially high school years, we want to conform—wear the same jeans as everyone else, curl our hair the same way, like the same music. But as we get older, we become more ourselves, find our own identities.
Maybe, as we get older, we take more responsibility for the world, like protecting flowers in a public park or picking up litter alongside the road. Young people, like the ones who deface buildings or throw litter from their car, may not feel part of the world, may even feel alienated or angry. But we older ones have been around long enough to know the preciousness of life. As we’re on our way out, we want to preserve what we’ve come to love.
Yet I have to keep reminding myself that the world has changed, that there are new norms since I graduated from college in the 1970s. That what was appealing once to us—bell bottom jeans, macrame, wide belts and platform shoes—is no longer considered attractive. Perhaps someday pierced lips and noses will be regarded as unsightly.
But that’s just my opinion.
Ahhh, Kath! I was thinking of you today when I was listening to “A Man Called Ove,” beautifully read by J.K. Simmons. Ove is a curmudgeon and proud of it. I think you might enjoy this book.
I love this: “When young, especially high school years, we want to conform . . . ” and yet, when I was young, we called this “non-conformist.” Conform? Hell no! Once when I asked for black tights for Christmas, Mother could find only flesh-colored tights, which I could not wear because I was 16 and NO one wore flesh-colored tights.
My experience as I age is that I have to be open to change, and I gradually become more comfortable with many of the ways the world has has changed around me . But I notice I have to manage what I allow in to my psyche. And then when I get triggered, I have to manage my reaction–otherwise, I’d be weeping or gnashing my teeth all the time. So I limit how much “news” I consume and where I find it, which usually means not on TV or doom-scrolling on my phone. And I stay off of social media, with maybe a once-a-month quick trip out to Facebook. And I often think of Wordsworth’s line, “The world is too much with us,” as he laments the shift away from nature–and that was in 1807! So much more to lament in the 21st century, so much more to make the heart heavy.
What helps me the most is consciously listing what I am grateful for. And when I do, I notice my jaw unclenches, my muscles relax, and I am more accepting of those big changes that I have no control over.
I admire your ability to admonish the flower-pickers and remind the dog walkers and the air foulers. I can’t do it. And I appreciate those who can.
Verna, I like your wise words about “managing” our information input and how we react. It would do all of us good to take a big breath before succumbing to despair or anger–my two main emotions these days. And I’m guessing it helps to have children and grandchildren, who can explain the ways of the world now. Like you, I do a gratitude check every morning, and that helps immensely.
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I can certainly agree with your opinion; I’m just too shy to act on those feelings as far as approaching other people.
Your mention of flower picking reminded me of something that happened to me decades ago, maybe in my 30s or thereabouts. There was a child picking flowers in a park and I approached him or her to gently explain why one shouldn’t pick those flowers, leave them for others to enjoy, etc. I was mortified when the child burst into tears!
I used to be shy but somehow as I’ve gotten older, maybe because I don’t care what people think of me, I’m more willing to go up to total strangers. I’ve gotten into trouble sometimes, like the time a dog owner cursed me when I asked him to restrain his dog from chasing pelicans. It does make you think twice. It’s not easy being the object of someone’s anger, although I guess it’s better than (inadvertently) making a child cry.