When I was a kid, I was close to my older sister and tended to share friends with her, people a year ahead of me in school. In college and when I first started working, I mingled with my own age group, and I also retained a close connection with a couple who were my father’s good friends. These mature people stood as a contrast to the crazy mistakes my peers and I made in our twenties. I would visit their home, leaving the sea of drama that is young adulthood for an island of sanity, culture, and intellectual engagement, and become aware of the difference, enjoying the respite and the chance to be a little more like them.
As I got older, my friends tended to become younger. I didn’t do this on purpose; they were the people I met through work and yoga, and I seldom felt older than them. By the time I retired, I was generally socializing with people twenty years my junior.
At work, I was surrounded by eighteen-year-olds five days a week, teaching primarily first-year courses. Since I taught in health and exercise science, the subject of aging naturally came up in classes. I often heard students say, “I love old people. They’re so cute.” It was good to know they loved their elders, but that adjective made me cringe.
My former backdoor neighbors had a frantic, poorly trained little dog which they let out in the yard to yap nonstop at all passersby. One morning, a stooped, gray-haired woman passed through the alley between my apartment and dog-owners’ trailer, and of course, the little beast barked hysterically. The woman muttered, “Someone ought to kick that f___ing rat in the head.” I wonder if my former students would think she was cute.
I live in a town where, according to one of its younger residents, the average age is “retired.” My friends are in their fifties, sixties and seventies. Vigorously engaged in their work, their creative pursuits, and in community organizations, they defy stereotypes of aging. Many of the poets who gather at Black Cat Books and Coffee are in their silver-haired years, and the vibrancy and originality of their work is impressive—perhaps because of the years behind the words.
At first I thought the predominance of fellow Boomers and creative people in T or C made it too easy to fit in, and I wondered, is this good for me? While I don’t miss the daily hassles of dealing with college freshmen or grading their papers, I realize I benefited from the abrasion. The longer I’m here, the more I see that everyone, in their own way, will challenge me to adapt and grow. People who are superficially and demographically like me are just as different from me in many ways as my eighteen-year-old students were. This is good. People who are not like me help wear the rough edges off my personality and opinions, like the wind sculpting desert rocks. With that softening comes access to the place where we are more alike, the essence, the humanness, the spirit.