Apologies for the crude title. This was the slogan I recently saw in traffic on a bumper sticker.
The very same day, I had learned that a friend who had been battling terminal cancer had just been hospitalized and was not expected to live through the night. His wife and three sons were gathered at his bedside for what ended up being two more days, as they had final conversations (as possible), and stood vigil. One son is in high school and the other two are young college students. At 1 A.M. this morning, I received the call that my friend's life was over.
To a young person, my friend was probably an "old guy." To me, and likely anyone beyond the threshold of "adult," my friend died young. He should have had the pleasure of seeing his children settled in their lives, and been there for the ups and downs of their own households through the years. He should have grown old and gray with his wife until they automatically repeated remembered stories, bickered about the forgotten details, and comforted each other in loss. He should have lived to be "an old guy."
I will miss you, my friend. Your wry humor, your ability to emphathize but not pity. Your ability to admit failings. To argue but not hold grudges. To genuinely care about people.
I live in Florida, the state where 75 is the median age. Stop signs are sometimes run. Some retirees drive at a painful crawl, in any traffic lane, while others barrel onward, blind to pedestrians and changing lights. The older crowd has its definate opinions, and by age 75, those opinions are pretty set in stone, for the most part. I've had the pleasure of meeting many of our older citizens in the workplace, and their histories are fascinating...their experience vast and varied. Some of our elders mellow smoothly; others ripen sharply. Hairlines separate (or disappear), wrinkles and gray hairs march on, gravity becomes a force to be reckoned with, and the less glamorous physical complaints become routine. Some seniors can run a mean marathon and look smart in the latest styles, while others fight "rusting out" or have to opt for replacement "parts." Others are happy being unfashionable, wearing comfortable shoes, and relaxing the gut.
Our seniors are eligible for the best lunch counter specials; they'll often congregate around the local donut shop, keep to the golf course, greet you at the supermarket checkout, run charities, teach, volunteer, cook, care for other generations of family members, or defy all universal standards of Speedo propriety while chatting up women half their age at the beach. Some hone their professions, polish portfolios, amass assets. Some invent and develop cures. Some tour and make speeches. Some become President. Collectively, they pack political muscle. At any rate, our elders survived enough years to now be "old."
There is a collective memory, experience, and wisdom present in our senior community, and more often than not, too few of the younger generation who pause to listen and learn from them before they're silenced by the passing of time. We lose much, if that is the case. Our aging are deserving of dignity and respect, rather than cheap shot slogans.
Despite the snickers that may be generated by a passing bumpersticker (or not), I'm reflecting on the life of my friend, and how it seems to have been cut many years too short. It's not old guys that "suck"....but rather my friend's no longer having the option of ever being one.
Missing you, Gary. I thanked you in person for all you did for us in the hard times. I hope you are awarded eternal comforts beyond this life.