Growing Old in America

Written by Tony Mussari
Copyright 2012
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair. Douglas MacArthur.

Another Milestone

In 1942, the cost of a new home was $3,775.00. The average income in the United States was $1,885.00. You could purchase a new car for $920.00, rent a house for $35.00 a month, go to Harvard for $420.00 a year, see a movie for 30 cents, buy a gallon of gasoline for 15 cents and send a letter for 3 cents.

At my grandmother’s neighborhood grocery store bacon was 45 cents a pound, milk was 60 cents a gallon, fresh baked bread was 9 cents a loaf, and ground coffee was 55 cents a pound.

No, I am not a savant.  All of these interesting facts are recorded in the birthday card I received from my godchild and niece, Theresa. The card is titled “1942 Remember When…A Nostalgic Look Back In Time” Yes, the card and several others I was fortunate to receive reminded me that I am right in the middle of what gerontologists call the early part of old age.

What is it like to be 70? Not much different than being 60, and much better than 65 when I had open heart surgery. To be very honest, I feel more liberated than ever before. There are more endings than beginnings, but there are an equal number of opportunities to be useful and make a difference.
I can see the emptiness of being busy and the shallowness of the frenetic lifestyle that substitutes activity for thoughtfulness and noise for understanding.

At 70, you spend more time alone with your thoughts and less time seeking fulfillment in crowds. At 70, life for me is about gratitude, reflection, remembering and cherishing private moments with grandchildren, friends, relatives and a select group of former students and their parents.

This is the Indian summer of life, and, for Kitch and me, it is one of the best stages of life. It is a time of thinking, planning, sharing and doing things we have always wanted to do, but never had the time to do.

That’s why we started our Face of America project.  That’s why we are spending so much time in North Plainfield, New Jersey.  That’s why we enjoy reading and writing, and that’s why we go into our garden for peace and quiet.

Life Lessons

What have I learned during my three score and ten years on this planet? I think I can summarize the most important lessons I’ve learned in 25 aphorisms:

1. Family matters;
2. Friends count;
3. There is no sell by date for parenting;
4. Life is bumpy;
5. Failure is the mother of opportunity;
6. Fame is fleeting;
7. Nature is the most beautiful artist;
8. Giving is better than receiving;
9. Patience is more than a virtue. It is the key to success;
10. Experience is the best teacher;
11. Listening is the key to understanding;
12. Ego is always the enemy;
13. You never escape your childhood;
14. Freedom isn’t free;
15. Most shortcuts lead to dead end streets;
16. There is some money that ain’t worth making;
17. Hope is stronger than death;
18. Work without purpose is meaningless;
19. Forgiveness is liberating;
20. Good health is great wealth;
21. Everyone needs encouragement;
22. No one is a superman or a superwoman;
23. Success has many different meanings;
24. Gratitude makes everything worthwhile;
25. A kind, loving and tolerant heart always saves the day.

From the Mouth of Babes

During their birthday visit, I asked my grandchildren what it means to be old. Their answers were priceless.

For Julia who is 9 and P.J. who is 6, being old is a time when:

You might forget things when you go on a trip;

You might leave things in a place where you can’t find them;

You walk slower than other people;

It might take you longer to do things;

You don’t have to work as much;

You might not get out as much;

You sleep more than other people;

You’ve been around longer than other people so you are a better story teller;

You own an older home;

You have older things like nice comfortable beds;

You have older friends;

You might have a garden to keep you busy;

You have an older oven to bake things;

You might not know what people are saying because you have bad hearing.

Old in America

What do you do if you are old in America?

What are your choices?

Who wants to hear your opinions?

Who speaks for your interests?

Who is there to help you when things are bad or to celebrate with you when things are good?

Who makes you feel that you are not alone…that you are relevant and needed?

Who asks for your advice, and heeds it?

These are questions older Americans ask themselves all the time.

In the 1980s, an energetic, intelligent, thoughtful and the youngest president in the history of Yale University, A. Bartlett Giamatti, addressed several of these questions with these words:

“I want a Yale University that engages retired faculty so that their dignity and expertise are not lost.”

Motivational speaker Les Brown made the point that you are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.

Henry Ford said it another way:
“If you take all of the experience and judgment of men over 50 out of this world … there wouldn’t be enough left to run it.”

In my opinion, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said it the best way:

“To be 70 years young is sometimes more cheerful and hopeful than to be 40 years old.”

With that in mind, Kitch and I look forward.  We know where we have been. We know what we have learned. We are blessed with the gift of life, the richness of our memories, and the connections we have with people of good will like our friends, neighbors, relatives, former students and their parents who stay in touch and inspire us look at every day as an opportunity to do our best.

Amy Grant is right:

Oh how the years go by
Oh how the love brings tears to my eyes
All through the changes the soul never dies
We fight, we laugh, we cry
As the years go by

And if we lose our way
Any night or day
Well we’ll always be
Where we should be
I’m there for you
And I know you’re there for me

Amy Grant’s words speak to America on its best day. Whether young or old, people expect respect and a feeling that they matter and they are valued.

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