December 31, 2013

Life lessons about growing older

Whatever I’ve learned about growing old gracefully has come from many sources, not the least from my dogs.

Years ago, as I was visiting some friends in Vermont, I noticed a three-legged dog busy amusing his human companions by fetching sticks for them.

“Oh. Poor thing,” I said.

“Don’t feel sorry for him,” I was told, “he doesn’t know that he is supposed to have four legs.”

I hadn’t thought about it that way. While many humans would be bemoaning their loss, this dog pranced about like three legs was the norm.

It was a revelation to me, one of those moments you see in a cartoon where an overhead bulb lights up. That’s why Isis, my blind dog, is so happy — she doesn’t know that she is supposed to see, and nobody reminds her of that.

One problem with us humans and old age is that we know too much. It’s OK to remember those days when we could toss on a 60-pound backpack and walk up a mountain like it was level ground, but too many of us mourn for those things we can’t do anymore.

My dogs taught me that if there’s something you can’t do anymore, do something else. 

Another lesson came from Louie. During the late 1970s, I ran a senior-citizen program in Long Beach, Calif.

Our offices were in a downtown storefront not far from where AARP was founded. One of our regular clients was a nattily dressed 80-something-year-old man named Louie. Most mornings, Louie would appear at the front desk and ask for me. When I came out to the reception area, Louie would sing a song. That was all he wanted — to sing a song, say hello and leave.

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