International Writers Magazine: Retirement Lifestyles
Laugh and To Weep
Man is the only
animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is
struck with the difference between what things are and what they
ought to be.
As one of my friends
says quite often as he watches one of our foursome look in his golf
bag for his wedge on the fourth hole forgetting that he left it unattended
on the first hole, "It sure is fun to watch old people." This,
of course, is generally followed by snickering from those of us who
didnt misplace a wedge
Of course, newspapers, magazines, and books are full of trying to answer
the question "What should be considered old nowadays?" Is
it defined as forgetting wedges? Or anything else? Conversation heard
walking out of the grocery store the other day:
"Alan, where did we park.
Its gotta to be here somewhere, Helen."
I havent talked to anyone of "advanced age" who thinks
theyre "old." But one of my friends did tell me about
a study that showed rats who want a longer life reduce their calories
by 30%. Question: Who was the first scientist who knew that rats even
wanted a longer life, and had the temerity to ask them? Another friend
plays Mah Jongg online because a study showed that it reduces stress
bought on by aging. Still another one can talk interminably on how eating
salmon helps oxygen free-radical molecules from damaging your cells.
Those of us who take the time to listen immediately think, "What
the hell is a free radical?" One of my caustic friends said it
sounds like someone who was once in jail for arguing against the government.
Living in a retirement community almost unavoidably makes one contemplate
the aging process if not old age itself. Sometimes it is faced with
an offhanded, flippant comment; sometimes with sorrow at a memorial
The community is ringed with tall, stately longleaf pines. They have
been growing here for over 150 years and many live to be over 300 years
old. When theyre young they grow a taproot 6 to 10 feet long.
By maturity they have a wide spreading lateral root system with several
deep "sinker" roots. I have long thought they stand as metaphors
for those of us who have settled here, sinking our roots into the sandy
soil with a trust that we will stay tall and stately. But "tall
and stately" seems at times to be too much to hope for.
For the most part, the members of the community are an impressive bunch:
the skipper of the first nuclear submarine to maneuver under the polar
ice cap; a scientist who was one of the primary designers of the Hubble
space telescope; an Olympic medal winner for diving; an NCAA wrestling
champion; one of the original founders of the OSS in WW II and later
a major officer in the CIA; the owner of the largest construction company
on the East coast; doctors of all sort from well known surgeons to pediatricians;
a fighter pilot who shot down a MIG in Vietnam; and a renown wine connoisseur
who has lectured all over the world and has over 1000 bottles in his
personal wine cellar. Then there is the person, a former Marine, who
struck out Ted Williams
well almost. He was in Korea after the
war and so was Ted Williams serving as a Marine pilot. "Our"
marine, also named Ted, was pitching in a ball game when this tall,
slim, professional looking ballplayer strolled to the plate to bat.
Our Ted fired two fast balls by him on his first two pitches. The catcher
ran out to the pitching mound and asked Ted, "Do you know who youre
pitching to?" Ted shook his head and the catcher leaned over and
said, "Damn it, its Ted Williams." As our Ted tells it: "I
gulped. Reared back and threw the hardest pitch I could muster and the
last time I saw it, it was soaring higher than Sputnik, disappearing
out of sight."
So much for striking out one of perhaps the best hitter in baseball.
There are more but this list is representative of "next door neighbors."
It is also representative of what happens to the "tall and stately"
when age makes itself known. The nuclear sub commander has been struck
down by multiple sclerosis and is now wheelchair bound. The Olympic
diver has Menieres disease which without warning causes severe
vertigo keeping him bed ridden for extended periods of time. The wrestling
champion within the last year has been diagnosed with diabetes, has
had three stints to repair three blockages going to his heart, and prostate
surgery that because of a doctors error pierced his bowel causing
further complications from which he is still recovering. Despite all
of these problems, however, he demonstrated the flippant side of approaching
the aging process. He said before he went in for the prostate surgery
that he was looking forward to it because he was going to be one of
the first patients who would have the surgery by a robot machine. He
told the doctor he wanted to watch the surgery so he could see the robot
in action. The doctor said, "Believe me you do not want to be awake
for the surgery." He responded, "Hell, Doc, Im a wrestler
and know what pain is. Give me a stick to bite on."
The CIA officer, well into his 90s, collapsed while getting ready
to putt on the eighteenth hole. A doctor who just happened to be in
the clubhouse was rushed to the green and resuscitated our CIA agent.
When he awoke he said, "Whats wrong? I was only lying down
to line up my putt." He is also famous for another quote when asked
to give the members a presentation on his impressive career as a CIA
operative. His response: "I would be happy to but I would have
to kill all of you right after the lecture."
If the conversation is not about golf it often dwells on what age-fighting
pills rest waiting in everyones bathroom cabinet. There are pills
for all sorts of effects, from low blood pressure to high spirits. There
are so many pills that everyone is aware of the cautions trumpeted by
TV to let your doctor know you "have this so he wont give
you that." I always wonder why wouldnt your doctor know everything
you have or take? Would you want a doctor who didnt?
Of course, with pills there are those discussions about pills such as
Viagra, quite often accompanied by sly smiles. It appears that ones
sexual prowess, albeit sometimes requiring artificial inducement, is
tightly connected to ones feeling of age; however, a recent TV
report said that over 65% of senior citizens still engage in sex. And
then there is the question, which pill does one take?: the one when
you dont have any time to wait, or the one when you have a day
and a half golf tournament and have to wait.
Too many times, however, discussions do not revolve around pills but
memorial services. Age catches up with the members and it is not out
of the ordinary to hear about someone passing away in the night. Sometimes
it is a surprise and sometimes it is expected. The services always do
justice to the life of the deceased. The CIA officer recently passed
away and his obituary in the local paper took up almost one page, and
this was also reflected in the service. The champion wrestler recently
lost his wife to a massive brain aneurism. Entering the church there
were two easels set up with pictures of her in her youth and after it
was taken away by aging. She looked happy on both easels.
And it is not out of the ordinary that after the service the discussions
do not focus on the death but the life of the person. Most of what is
recalled is the laughing shared with the deceased, the pleasure of their
company; age or the aging process not part of the feelings expressed.
What I recall about Paul, our CIA officer, was his love of the written
word, especially poetry. We used to chat about his favorite poet Ezra
Pound. It seemed to me that he could recall every poem he had written.
Recalling one of our conversations, I remember Paul reciting Pounds
"And the Days are Not Full enough":
And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass.
He had a sparkle in his eyes which did not betray his age. They were
youthful, and full of looking forward to what was going to happen next.
Rutherford December 2007
Southern Pines, NC
Email: brutherford1at nc.rr.com
Author Bio: A retired Marine aviator and former chair of the Department
of English at the United States Naval Academy, Colonel Bruce Rutherford
holds a Masters degree in Arts from the University of Connecticut and
has found his second act teaching English at a local community college.
Bruce lives with his wife and four cats in North Carolina where he is
currently at work on a memoir.To Laugh, To Weep
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