Column: Our flaws, traits and strengths don't leave us as we get older
Editor’s note: This is another in a series of occasional columns by long-time Ann Arbor resident Robert Faber on what he describes as his most recently acquired area of expertise - growing old.
Lena Driskell, a 79-year-old great-grandmother, lived in a nursing home in Atlanta with her boyfriend, 85-year-old Herman Winslow. All was working just fine until she discovered that he was playing around with another woman... so she shot him.
When reported in the press, the issue that most puzzled the readers was more the bizarre nature of the action than the crime itself. What in the world could have precipitated and directed such passion and such outlandish behavior in people that old?
Most members of generations younger than very old see antique codgers in their 70s, 80s and beyond as more a different species than simply a different generation. How, after all, can people that age have relationships other than grandparental?
Youngsters (by which I mean short of their mid-50s) with that phase of life still in their distant future, don’t seem to understand that the really old are simply ordinary people who have lived longer -- perhaps a lot longer.
Advanced age does not relieve us of the legal or moral obligations of civil behavior, but neither does it mean the transformation from who we were when young into a stranger formulated by the accumulation of years. The flaws and strengths and idiosyncrasies of our youth, if part of our character then, remains with us as we grow old — even very old.
Shooting your ex-lover is not the best way to even the score — just that the aches of the “cheatin’ heart” of song and story hold much the same place in our senior years as they did when we were young.
Seniors haven’t changed all that much — their interests, their needs, even their passions remain a continuing part of their lives. The only adjustment is that, as seniors, they now move at a slower pace.
There are other ways to deal with the disappointments of life, methods a bit less dramatic or final than the one chosen by Lena Driskell, but solutions for the aged are not that distant from the choices of the young — just tempered somewhat by the lessons absorbed during the journey.
We know, for example, that if we live long enough we’ll get old and die — a reality alluded to by Groucho Marx when he said, “I intend to live forever, or die trying” — and that’s just the way it is. But that inevitability should not design our trip or tailor the way we get there.
Even though Driskell had reached the edge of aged (still only on the edge in the biased eyes of this 85-year-old reporter) and was living in a retirement home, there is no reason to assign her to the dustbin of life.
Some of the enthusiasms and pleasures — and miseries and fears and flaws — of life may have dimmed since her earlier years, but the essence of her youthful demons and desires remain a focus of her life. And that’s the way it should be — although I do recommend a more restrained performance. Shooting an unfaithful mate may well let off steam, but that relief — like poor Herman Winslow — will probably be short-lived.
The misguided perceptions of youth that view the old as vacuous and out of the loop often shape the views of our older selves when we too reach that stage, so that while we may see ourselves as beyond the passions and the challenges of life, we may in reality still have still have pleasures to be pursued and lessons to be learned and adventures and discoveries still to be explored.
And that is the point of this ramble. Despite the presumptions of the young, old people are not different creatures. They — we — are simply somewhat faded examples of who we once were. The pleasures and aspirations that had motivated us for the future are still driving forces in our lives.
The interests and goals of our youth may have changed form, but not essence. The pleasures of football may have been replaced by golf, or mystery novels may have given way to the mysteries of history, but all of that is part of our growth, part of our maturation — not of our transformation. With age, our paths and positions may have changed, but we remain who we were — only older.
And that means that our passions for life may not be as heated as earlier, and our energy may not sustain our curiosity for as long as we wish, but the essence of our nature tends to play out its role regardless of the time lag.
Whatever Driskell had been earlier in life, whatever pleasures had moved her and whatever fears or needs had limited her, for better or worse she was still Lena Driskell.
Bob Faber has been a resident of Ann Arbor since 1954. He and his wife, Eunice, owned a fabric store and later a travel agency. He served a couple of terms on the Ann Arbor City Council. He may be reached at email@example.com.