Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Sunday, October 31, 2021

You don’t have to fight growing older

Sunday October 31, 2021


When did I grow old? I knew aging had to happen, but I thought it would take longer. 

               When I was young, the inevitability of growing old never occurred to me. I was Peter Pan; aging was never-never.

               Even into my seventies, I didn’t think of myself as old. Sure, my hair developed what an internet wit called “wisdom highlights.” But I still had employable skills. My mind and my muscles still worked. I still had a future stretching ahead of me. 

               And then one day, I realized that things had changed. 

               I didn’t think of myself as old. But I couldn’t think of myself as young either. 

               And the future contained more of the same. Or, more likely, less of the same. 

               I don’t want to be old. Despite my best efforts, I can’t get rid of youth’s prejudices about old folks. You know – they can’t find their debit cards at the cashier’s line. They’re helpless running automated teller machines at the bank. They keep losing their hearing aids…

               Oops. All of those apply. 


Change in attitude

               Physically, I’m no different from what I was, ta few months ago. But I think differently. 

               I no longer see a “Help Wanted” ad and think, “I could do that job.” I no longer see a travel poster and think, “I could go there.” (I’d probably get sick anyway). I no longer look at a Formula One racer and think, “I could drive that…” 

               I’m discovering the invisible line between young-old and old-old. 

               Three years ago, my best friend Ralph Milton and his wife Bev moved into a seniors’ housing block. They downsized from a three-bedroom house to a one-bedroom apartment. With a communal dining room.

               They found themselves surrounded by residents who didn’t fit the “Freedom 55” model. They had no desire to play golf every day. Or to spend months at a Club-Med resort with activities every day and parties every night.

               One of Ralph’s new acquaintances fumed about a magazine he had been reading. “It’s called a ‘Golden Age’ magazine,” the man stormed, “but it’s all about people in their sixties and seventies. Once you get to be eighty, you disappear!”

               The acquaintance continued, “They’re not really old. Old is when you need people to come and mow your lawn and clip your toenails and change your diapers!”

               When Ralph finds himself at a loss for words, he writes words. Lots of them. This time, they turned into a book. It’s called Well Aged: Making the Most of Your Platinum Years.  “Platinum” because it goes beyond those “Golden Years.” 


What it’s really like

               Ralph found that there are lots of books about seniors, “most of them written by young, well-intentioned health-care professionals. Their findings…are usually based on good science, but little or no experience. They don’t know what it’s really like.”

               So Ralph wrote about what it’s like to be old. 

               Basically, Ralph identifies two kinds of older people – the young-old and the old-old.

               The young-old are as capable as they were before they retired. All they lacked was time. So now they’re vigorously enjoying themselves, basically spending to extend their middle age. 

               The old-old don’t have that option any more. They’ve had to admit that they are not what they used to be, and never will be, again. 

               Ralph’s chapters deal with health, community, food, sexuality, dementia… and loneliness. Especially loneliness. When your life partner has died, when your children live on the far side of the country, when you can’t hear conversations, when your TV screen is your sole companion, life can be unbearably lonely. 

               Psychologist James Lynch calls loneliness an epidemic, a greater health hazard than any other disease. 

               Ralph’s chapters offer a certain amount of practical advice. But it’s not intended as a how-to manual. It’s more about emotions – what it’s like to be old-old. 

               Yet this is not a depressing book. Ralph also discusses the benefits of longevity. The kind of legacy you can leave – and it’s not just money. The mystery of death. And the joy – yes, the joy -- of aging.

               Well Aged: Making the Most of Your Platinum Years went on sale in bookstores this weekend. 

               Buy it. Read it. For yourself, or for your parents. 

               Clearly I’m biased. Ralph is my friend. Also, he quotes me a few times. 

               But beyond that, Ralph has done all of us older seniors a service. There’s more to aging, and aging well, than constant denial of the reality that we are growing old. 


Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

               To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write jimt@quixotic.ca



Your turn


Again, I hit a subject that evoked many responses. I’ll put the substantive comments first, and follow with the letters that dealt mainly with personal experience. 


Don Sawatzky, mentioned as Jill  Sanghvi’s mentor, noticed a typo in my text. I typed “qualitative” where I should have said “quantitative”. As Don noted, the sentence should have read  “Instead of gathering reams of statistics in a quantitative study, Sanghvi chose a qualitative approach.”


Tom Watson was surprised that “something that took place 27 years ago might be considered for a prize now. Although, I guess that a theory such as Card's has to stand the test of time.”


Steve Roney wrote, “I fear you oversell the conclusions of David Card’s research. You say he proved raising the minimum wage ‘had no negative effects.’ In the real world, that is surely never true of anything. Card’s research suggested that raising the minimum wage did not create more unemployment. He did not address other possible effects; such as raising prices.

               “And his conclusion has not, as you imply, swept all before it. Before his study, almost all economists agreed that raising the minimum wage caused unemployment. Now about half do. He did not settle the question; he raised it.

               “Economics, like all social sciences, is inexact.” 


Similarly, Yawar Baig thought my comparison between Hindu castes and Canadian castes “plays down the evil of sanctified and institutionalized racism. To put it in one line, an Upper Caste Hindu who considers himself defiled when the shadow of a lower caste Dalit falls on him -- or ‘God forbid’, a lower caste Dalit touches him -- and so treats that Dalit worse than he treats his pet dog, is following his religion and being pious. That is something that is not true for any other form of racism. And that is what makes it such a huge crime against humanity.”


On the theme of making life better for people with autism, Laurna Tallman modestly said, “Ahem. I, also, have made ‘a start’ on that process.”


Now for the letters that drew in personal experience. 


Kim MacMillan: “This is a very important message that applies to much more than autism. A ‘condition’ (perhaps a loaded word) is a problem only if the person concerned perceives it as such. I have many ‘deficits’ – qualities that would make my life easier if I could do them better or easier (memory, for example) – but I’ve come to realize that the flip side of almost every ‘deficit’ is a strength that I (and others) highly value. As the old psychological truism goes, ‘It’s not usually our weaknesses that get us into trouble; it’s the overuse of our strengths.’”  


Sandy Warren: “Two of my grandchildren are autistic so I have seen first-hand that 'different' is not the same as a ‘deficit’. It will take time to reach an increased understanding of autism, but broad thinking and creative presentation like Dr. Sanghvi's will help.”


For David Gilchrist the column “hit pretty close to home! I did not do well in school; and in Grade 10, failed a subject and had to repeat the year. The councillor told me that I was ‘slow’, and would never be able to go to university. But the IQ test we took that year told a different story. Orally, I do quite well -- but not on exams. 

               “I married a super teacher. She didn’t know any more than anyone else what my problem was; but she helped me learn to focus -- and I never failed a course or test after that wedding. 

               “There was talk of even Winston Churchill being ‘Hyper Active-Attention Deficit Disordered’ in his younger years. The more I heard about these students, the more I suspected -- until I read a book by a teacher, that clearly described me. What an eye-opener! We are not ‘slower’ than most of our classmates: our brains just develop in a different sequence! As you say about the Autistic, I realized that we weren’t ‘handicapped’ with some mental deficiency. There are compensations. At 93, when most of my peers are either gone, or seriously limited in many ways, I am still able to prepare a worship for each Sunday at the Lodge where I live.”


Laura Spurrell felt that the column applied “to most people who are differently abled. Yes, all of us have strengths and weaknesses, just some more obvious. It is important to accept all of what we are. For the record, my son learns slower than many, but he knows music better than most.”


Heather Richard: “My oldest grandson is three, and has been diagnosed with autism.  At first, it broke my heart, because I know the difficulties he will face in school, with other children, and eventually getting a job.  He doesn’t speak, but he’s not mute – he makes noises to communicate his needs, just not in what society would call speech.  But I’m sure he doesn’t consider himself ‘disabled’ (at this point in life, he doesn’t even know the meaning of the word).  He’s a happy little boy – he loves his family and his video games (he’s amazing at games beyond what you would expect of a three-year-old).  He doesn’t handle crowds or new situations well, but that could be a function of growing up in a Covid-restricted world as much as autism.  I hope that he will grow up in a world that is more accepting of his differences, and that he won’t be made to feel as ‘less’ than anyone else.  Knowing there is research out there like you’ve described helps ease my heart a little.”


Bob Rollwagen: “Life experience tends to set our expectations. This is probably why social interaction is so important and why ‘Virtual’ schooling is not as good as in person teaching. 

               “My eldest child went to a preschool that included children who had hearing and/or sight limitations. This reality did not alter her play and social interactions in any negative or visible way. She made observations about her classmates and seemed to have appropriate and appreciated attitudes and reactions. Now almost 40, she seems to thrive in diverse gatherings. This has influenced the expectations and experiences of her siblings in a very positive way, such that they all support and lead in diverse circumstances.”


Patricia Brush remembered an interview she heard on the radio, 20 years ago: “The main thrust was that autistic people understand and process their reality of the world in a different way. When presented with a problem, autistic people present novel solutions. Autism should be considered a normal variant and autistic people's skills should be respected and asked for.

               “Recently, I saw a news spot about a tech firm that specifically seeks out those with autism. They hire them and set them at the thorny questions that were eluding others. The answers were elegant and often used  few steps to achieve where a non-autistic might have a dozen steps or more.”






If you want to comment on something, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca. Or just hit the ‘Reply’ button.

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               You can now access current columns and seven years of archives at http://quixotic.ca

               I write a second column each Wednesday, called Soft Edges, which deals somewhat more gently with issues of life and faith. To sign up for Soft Edges, write to me directly at the address above, or send a blank e-mail to softedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

               And for those of you who like poetry, please check my webpage .https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to poetry-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca (If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)






To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)

               Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

               I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/

               Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



               The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.



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