This past week, while on vacation, I had the pleasure of hanging out with my boyfriend’s great aunt. I didn’t ask her age because that would just be rude, but I’m going to guess that she’s in her 80′s. A wisp of a thing, no taller than 5’1″, she has grey bob, ruddy cheeks and just about the best attitude a human being can possibly have without being the Dalai Lama. (My grandparents, who are also a joy to be around, are like this too. My theory is that their sunny dispositions are directly related to surviving The Depression, but I could be wrong.)
After a fall last year, which resulted in months of rehab, my boyfriend’s great aunt gets around with the help of a walker she calls her “Cadillac.” She also has a “Chevrolet,” but she often leaves it at home because “it’s not as fast.” Her great joys in life include taking her Keds off to tan her legs on the beach, collecting large and small bottles which she uses to “help her remember fun times” (she has 146 of them), being read aloud to (she loved the new David Sedaris book — “Those are such great stories!” she exclaimed after each chapter) and eating lobster (which she pronounces lobstah, because she’s from the Northeast). When you say something — anything at all — (“I just got a mosquito bite” or “We’re having lobstah for dinner”) she responds by throwing her hands in the air and shouting “Oh my gawd! Oh boy! Can you believe that?”
As I was reading her the fifth consecutive chapter of Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls and she was laughing hysterically as Sedaris ranted about all the turds in China, I had this major revelation: I should hang out with old people more often because they make it hard to be bitter about life. Here’s why:
1. They are egoless. The time in their life when they need to be the center of attention or be recognized for their accomplishments have passed. Achievements for the very elderly include being able to eat corn on the cob with their dentures intact, beating you at Cribbage and well, basically just living another day illness-free. The problem with all of us youngers are that our egos haven’t tired themselves out yet and we tend to think of ourselves and our lives as terribly important. I know I’m guilty. But how do we stop? It seems impossible to imagine that in the big picture, the things we obsess over don’t matter all that much. At least hanging out with old people reminds us that world isn’t going to stop spinning if we don’t make it to so-and-so’s bday party this weekend. Seriously. Fuck it.
2. In their eyes, you are young and beautiful. And speaking of having our insatiable egos fed…to an old person, those of us under the age of 50 or so, are guaranteed to be thought of as “young” and “handsome” or “beautiful.” That bout of adult acne or moderate love handle chub or the pants with the stain on them will go completely and utterly unnoticed. You are the hottest thing around when you’re with the oldsters and they won’t hesitate to tell you so. Enjoy it.
3. No complaining. I don’t know about you, but I spend more time than I would like to admit complaining. I try not, but again, like the ego thing, it’s a freight train that’s hard to stop. I mean, it’s fun sometimes, and sometimes not, but complaints are often how we bond. “It’s so hot out.” “Ugh. I know.” It’s like saying, “I love you” to one of your peers. When speaking with those of the more geriatric persuasion, you”re going to have to find a more positive way to bond because they don’t understand the language of complaint about stupid shit because they have real shit to complain about: like, I might die. “It’s so hot out” I” I know! I love the heat.” Try to follow that with a kvetch when speaking with a 90-year-old. It’s difficult. Talking with old people gives you perspective, helps you appreciate what you have, forces you to filter your conversation through a new lens — a rose-colored one. Don’t fight it. Just go with it.
4. The stories. OH, THE STORIES. You might here the same one two or three or even sixteen times, but littered in there with the repeats about last night’s meatloaf dinner, are some real gems. I’ll never get sick of hearing how my grandpa picked up my grandma with the simple, yet effective, “Buenos dias señorita.” With a few simple questions, you’re bound to get a whole slew of stories to keep you enthralled while you’re taking a hiatus from complaining.