You've got to like old people.
I like the way they speak their minds without being mean. I like their gray hair, their crooked teeth (no money for dentistry when they were kids) and the way crow's feet form around their eyes when they smile. I like their walk -- careful, deliberate, aware that errant electrical cords or icy sidewalks can be their worst enemies.
Old people are generous. Go to your grandparents or to any friend more than 70 and tell them you need $50. They'll give it to you and they won't ask when you're going to pay it back. They understand the value of money and the value of friendship. They've lost friends and spouses and know that special people in your life are irreplaceable.
Memories are their treasures and old people have stockpiles of them. Set an old couple down with a cup of coffee and an interested young person and they can regale their guest for hours. Old people realize younger folks are sometimes slow to fully comprehend precious stories, so they're not averse to repeating the same tale a second or third time when they next see their visitor. They're patient with callow youngsters who always seem to be in a hurry. Old folks figure they'll grow out of it someday.
Recollections are tricky, however. It's easy for seniors to remember the office address of their first job in 1940 or the lyrics to "Ragtime Cowboy Joe" but tough to remember where they set down their eyeglasses this morning.
The elderly are largely ignored by the media. Movies, television and music are geared to the young. The only time old people are spotlighted is when they achieve some sort of age milestone.
Consider the case of Mitoyo Kawate of Japan, who died Thursday at the age of 114. The Associated Press noted her death because, just weeks ago, she assumed the title of world's oldest person. Until the death of Kamato Hongo, 116, and also of Japan, our friend Kawate was just an unknown runner-up in the tournament of aging. Kawate's longevity is all the more remarkable for the fact that she lived about six miles outside of Hiroshima when the first atomic blast hit that city on Aug. 6, 1945. She entered the city two days later and was exposed to radiation. Kawate was already a middle-aged 56 when U.S. forces dropped the bomb on Japan.
Old age can certainly bring a host of unwelcome ailments and afflictions. (If you've got an hour or so to spare just ask a senior citizen how he's feeling.) But it also brings a certain composure and serenity that only comes when you've had the chance to observe human foibles and feats for 70 or 80 years.
Nothing surprises them as the years rush by with increasing speed. They've seen it all. And while their world may have grown smaller because of hip replacements or fading eyesight they value each day and the simple pleasures that life brings.
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