Wow, that last post was quite a rant on my part about Sydney. It sounded like I was down on it, big time. Actually, I think it was the opening of the /cities article that set me off:
You’re smart, young, newly graduated from a university with the whole world before you. You could settle in a small town with well-tended lawns, pancake suppers, and life on a human scale. Or you could truck it to the big city, with all its din and dog-eat-dog lunacy. Your choice?
OK, I admit it pushed a button. The button that connotes “unless you’re smart, young, newly graduated from a university” you might not be reading that Fast Cities article at all. Instead you’d be sitting constipated on the can thumbing for the leaf blower ads in last month’s AARP.
In my work and travels I meet many, many folks who are late-forties, fifties, sixties – smart, accomplished, bored. They feel stuck in their job, marriage, health issues, location or the whole dang lot. They’re not necessarily whining, nor washed up and past their prime, despite the media constantly trying to convince them of that. They just have an inkling that deep inside is an unlit bonfire that would light up several sleepy subdivisions given the right opportunity. You know who you are. You mightn’t know exactly what that opportunity might look like, but if it was thrust at you on a plate, you’d grab it with tooth and nail, to hell with the knife and fork.
A change of city could well be the answer. ‘It’s not that easy,’ say some. Dealing with stress, cancer, divorce et al ain’t easy either.
I’ve spent six years whooping it up with our adventurous senior customers, and I’m bored of the way the media and business world tends to champion youth, ‘a youth we all lose’.
My customers, at 55 and over, some approaching 90, constantly defy society’s attempts to swathe white-haired ladies in polyester floral dresses, grumpy old men in trousers up around their armpits and bundle them off on a belching tour bus to see the poinsettias in bloom …
When ‘over the hill’ means ‘Nice passing you young man’ – he’s 71 and just rode 500 miles at speed … who cares if he rides a daft looking bike.
Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with polyester floral dresses or poinsettias (although white lace up leather sneakers are the true crime – who is responsible for that?).
In other, typically non-colonial cultures, elders are revered. Nothing new here, but I’ll mention it because ‘people do not have to be informed, so much as reminded’.
‘Oldies’ make crucial contribution to the next generation, something all the money in the world cannot buy. When we want to build a bridge, fix a light bulb, make peach cobbler, build a space ship … we don’t go re-inventing the wheel. We base it on the knowledge of what’s been done before. We’re good at calling the achievements of past ‘human doings’.
In the area of being a human being, we’ve had even more practice – it’s been a long time since Adam and Eve neglected to back their SUV over that tubular Satan. You’d think we’d be pretty good at it by now – doing relationship with self and others. But no. We still make the same debilitating mistakes, get jealous, insecure, neurotic, defensive … and these affect our work and personal lives, and ultimately, all-round success.
We don’t defer to seniors for their smarts to help us. We just rile at our mother in laws for getting in our way. We tell them ‘they’re past the post’, give them a job stamping library books or scrutinizing our boarding passes, and go kick the dog or pay a therapist $200 an hour.
If someone is even a year older than me, I respect them for having been on this planet and endured 365 more days of hard knocks. I can learn something from them. They might have been or done something in those days that can save me great trouble and pain in my next waking day. They can give me an insight that might take me years to ‘get’, when they duct-tape me in polyester and shove a laxative somewhere long and narrow to keep me quiet. And if they’ve been out living life as if age was not an issue, like my customers, or my 70 year young mother who loves electronic music and even gave poledancing a swing ‘just for the helluvit’ (now you know it was entirely her idea), I can learn even more.
If I had a dream, it would be to have an elderly person sit in every classroom in the world for part of every day and just talk about whatever occurred to them. And have our youth just listen. Now wouldn’t that be a great way to employ them and keep those neurons firing instead of misfiring?
I just believe that by focusing wholly and solely on fast and faster, young and younger, in many ways we’re getting dumb and dumber.
PS: I just had another dream, writing this piece. One of our 70 year young customers, Leslie, lives alone in a retirement village in Oregon. None of the other residents do anything remotely like she does. She rides a racing travel bike like mine – the same model Tour de France commentator Phil Liggett owns. Here she is:
70 year young Leslie in action in Arizona. Read more about it
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Leslie could look forward to having folks living next door she could ride and do adventures with, where the recreation shed is full of performance bicycles, instead of electric golf and shopping carts?
If I can’t muster the resources to to start our own retirement enclave (and I think there is a forestry group with a similar idea that has actually created their own), I’ll ask our customers what retirement villages they are considering retiring to, and publish those as a list. Those wanting to avoid the walking frame for as long as they can pedal can look there first …
You know, in this way, I feel like I can actually make a teensy weensy difference.