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Old is as old does - a commentary

By Tom Dodge, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX – "Aging isn't for sissies," Jim Lee told me. What he meant was that you can't give in to its accompanying inevitable frailty. I believe, also, in ignoring the media's stereotype of us as being obsessed with dentures, drugs, and HMOs, as well as the cultural prerogative of buying a motor home and cruising the Interstates listening to talk radio.

Jim is 72, the age which reporters call "elderly," yet the term really doesn't fit him. He goes to his job of acquisitions editor at TCU Press every day, screening the books for those few to be published and the many which won't. His memory for quoting long passages from Thomas Hardy, Shakespeare, and Lawrence Sterne rivals that of a young sportswriter recalling the statistics of yesterday's game.

Another eighth-decade amigo is Lennie Stan, age 76. I drove out to his place in Palm Coast, Florida, three weeks ago. There's a heated pool in his complex, where he swims three hours every day, and bike paths that follow the highway along the seashore to the
neighboring towns of Bunnell and Flagler Beach. He takes this ride every day before swimming. His other exercise is talking to every person he meets on the planet. He is pathologically sociable.

He drove me on to my daughter's place in Virginia and headed immediately for the hiking path in her neighborhood. He ate up the steep inclines with the same ferocity with which he puts away plates of pasta. After that, he drove me to Memphis because he wanted
to show me the Beale Street night life. His plan was to drive the 800 miles, get a shower, take in some sightseeing, and then go down there and dance with the girls all night. I am sorry to report that I was too fatigued for Beale Street. I'm a dozen years younger but my only desire was for rest and relaxation. He was disappointed, but I tried to compensate by paying for his bus ticket back to Florida.

These friends are intellectually and physically active, but there is another age-busting factor that they have in common. They accept change and historical repetition with equanimity.

My inability to accomplish this is a pitfall of those of us who use the past to interpret the present. We run the risk of chronic anger because we see the past repeating itself with regularity and are powerless to avoid it. Shakespeare's observation that the past is
prologue has had no effect, leading William Faulkner to add that it isn't even past. Youth may think we have the power of prophecy because we know in advance the outcome of their mistakes. It isn't prophecy. It's just memory. It's all been done before.

On the larger scale, we see politics play out as they always do. We saw the war in Iraq begin with the same self-serving litany as that of Vietnam: we must bring freedom, etc., stop the communists (today's terrorists) over there, otherwise we will have to fight them here. We see the generals being surprised by the will of the Viet Cong (insurgents today). More troops will be needed, more money. In time, we will hear about a light at the end of the tunnel.

Jim and Lennie know this, as I do, but accept this human failing and go on quietly doing the things that bring them pleasure. "I'm not mad at anybody," Jim told me. Lennie loves his physical culture, and fills his condo with his sculpture and paintings. They are both
fun-loving and pursue the rib-sprung gender with great velocity.

When I visited Lennie ten years ago, there were 30,000 people in Palm Coast. Now there are 130,000 - and most of them rip up and down the once-quiet streets in enormous vehicles, swerving in and out of traffic and running red lights. This upset me. "Why be upset?" Lennie said. "It's just more people to talk to, and maybe have fun with."

Tom Dodge is a writer from Midlothian.