Because of the coronavirus, she was wearing a mask which made it difficult for me to identify her, at first. She was walking her dog, which I did recognize, but the cane her right hand came as a surprise. At 97, she’d eschewed using one until now.
Keeping an appropriate distance between us, we stopped to chat. I made no reference to the cane and was delighted to find her in good spirits. Even so, she had a confession to make. She’d given up her car. “I don’t want to have a close call with a bicyclist,” she confided. Next, she paused, dropping her gaze to her dog as it sat attentively at her feet. He waged his tail once or twice looking up at her, as if to encourage her to reveal an additional truth that like a lump of dried bread had stuck in her throat. “I really miss my car,” she said at last. “I miss the independence it gave me.”
Detecting a whiff of family pressure behind her decision, I didn’t commiserate but gave her encouragement, instead.
“Good call. I’ve been thinking of doing the same,” I nodded. “Bicyclists drive me crazy, the way they weave in and out of traffic, forgetting the rules of the road in their attempts to jump one or two spaces ahead in line. I’m not sure my reflexes can protect them from their folly any longer.”
The woman returned my nod, satisfied I’d understood her; then she tugged gently on her dog’s leash to signal they were about to resume their walk. I watched them depart, noting her careful pace, and was glad I’d been silent about the cane.
As I returned to my errand, it occurred to me that aging well doesn’t mean looking 60 when you are 70. It means being honest enough to turn away from past habits and expectations when they begin to pose a personal danger or a danger to others.
Recently, a friend left a sample of saffron for me with the receptionist at my retirement center. Her note said the herb was good for the eyes and the brain. I didn’t think she was nudging me to give up driving, but I was touched that she wanted to keep me sharp. I want that too.
I hope her elixir works because I admit I’m obliged to peddle faster these days just to remain on the fringes of modern life. My computer is a daily challenge, for example, as it changes modes of operation in the flickering of an eye. When it does, It takes time for me to learn the protocols. I must practice them over and over again until my brain understands the new information should be placed in the long-term memory file.
The good news is that as we age, most of us can continue to learn, if more slowly. The better news is that we elderly, our brains packed with experience, are insightful and, as such, are willing to be patient with ourselves and others. We’ve learned to rein in emotions that carried us away when we were young. That reining in leaves more room for humor. And, for me, humor is gold. It keeps me happy, healthy, and possibly easier to live with. I doubt either gold or saffron, which is nearly as costly, can do that.