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Jewish Journal

Life at 85: what a trip!

by Red Lachman

October 12, 2006 | 8:00 pm

I was born in Chicago some 85 years ago. My home was Jewish Orthodox and consisted of my mother, her two brothers and their father, my grandfather. I specify my grandfather because, in those days, nobody ever thought of placing their old father in an old folks' home.
 
My closest friend while growing up was Alan, who lived across the street. Each evening, we would go for a walk -- generally lasting about two hours. He and I really liked each other, but this walk was a very silent one, neither of us had much to say.
 
In 1943, I left Chicago and moved to Los Angeles. It was during the war, and I became a flight test engineer and copilot on the airplane known as the B-25. From then on, Alan and I spoke on the phone but also had personal visits during the years.
 
The other day, I got a call from Alan, who is now 87 and a widower.
 
Now, not as before, there was ongoing conversation. Not silent anymore. But what did we have to talk about? The talk ran easy. We spoke for a long time about his hip problems and my back and other health problems. The opening, "How are you?" was for one minute, and the health conversation lasted for one hour.
 
Now you may ask, why I am telling you the story of my friend? It has to do with my past. When he and I were growing up, how in the world would we ever know or think about hip problems at the age of 87? We would have asked: What do you mean by "the age of 87?" It was another world. A world of which we had no knowledge. My reaction to our long conversation was very emotional. I was in tears when it was time to say goodbye. I said, "Alan, you have my love."
BR> But this is what the past does for you -- it is really another life; it's gone but never forgotten. That thought will always put a tear in your eye.
 
The goodbye was so different than our youthful, nonspeaking days.
 
The conversation with Alan opened the door of my brain. I suddenly realized I am 85 and part of another world: It's called the present. I have gone through the youth time, the middle time when I was 40 to 60 and, now, I find myself in the third stage. What a trip! Really unbelievable.
 
We look back on the past because it was another era. In our youth and young years, life included activities you chose. Your responsibilities were minimal compared to those as you grew older. Being young and thinking young allowed you to exist in a world that is the start of the middle age.
 
Of course, there are exceptions, and some people are required to give more of themselves as required by family obligations. But those times somewhat establish the makeup you will carry the rest of your life.
 
From the middle age, we enter what is called the old-age era. Old age is intended to slow the flow of time so we can get back to the real "hopefully pleasant" moments of the past.
 
How do I handle belonging to the senior group? How do I accept the present? It is very, very hard to say to myself: "You are old." Stepping into this stage is not easy; it's difficult to accept the number 85.
 
At 85 I have given up driving. I just can't see well enough. There are two other "loves of my life that also went by the wayside: tennis and jogging. My eyesight also contributes to hardship in reading the newspaper. I find it difficult to really accept the fact that I can no longer do all of the middle-life chores or continue with many of my chosen activities. I find myself thinking about the activities that came so easily in my middle life.
 
But in the "old age" category, one must force oneself to realize the here and now. Activities must conform to the present place you are in life, both physically and mentally. When you come to accept the present position, time wise, I think you can then enjoy what you have -- and prosper with all the good things that are there.
 
You can take advantage of the knowledge of the past, an example of which is the seven-member men's club I belong to. It used to be that each time we met, the opening welcome was a cordial handshake. The past brought me to ask this group of men, a gender that often refuses to show hidden emotions, "Are you glad to see each other?"
 
The answer was, of course, "Yes."
 
So I suggested a hug in place of a handshake -- and the hug has taken over. I find others, friends not in their 80s, display emotional tenderness to me and my wife, who is 84. I detect my friends thinking that age brings great knowledge not present in the early years. Another great experience is having our family close by and the joy they exhibit at having us with them.
 
The past is very important; it contributes to the actions of the present. Look back and enjoy your thoughts, but the present is here and now. Live it up, take pleasure in your friends and do not feel bad thinking about who you are today. Tell your thoughts and become a charter member of "Senior Time."
 


Red Lachman is a short-story writer.

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