Posts Tagged ‘Aging’


In New Orleans recently, an African-American cab driver said, “Have a good day, young man.” “Young man” (I’ll be 72 in July) is a term of respect in the Black community. It tickled me, because elders in America don’t get much respect.

Leviticus 19:32 states, “You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old.” Generally, that gets little traction. Check out how often young people remain seated in senior-preference seats on San Francisco’s buses. (When offered a seat, I decline. The elderly need seats; I don’t.)

Dave Eggers offers a frightening look at youth chauvinism in his 2014 novel The Circle. A social-media company—a mash-up of Facebook, Apple, Google (Alphabet) and others—has a state-of-the-art Silicon Valley campus in which 30-year-olds are hard to find. The protagonist, a 24-year-old woman—and new employee—thinks 30 is over the hill. One can’t possibly contribute to society when three decades have sapped one’s energy and enthusiasm. But good judgment takes time to develop. The Circle’s increasingly invasive use of social media and related technology—promulgated, interestingly, by two senior executives of late middle age sprouting faux wisdom—threatens not only individual privacy but also sanity.

Granted, elders don’t always keep up with technology. (I call on my 20-year-old great-nephew Matthew.) Yet we have much to offer in terms of values—including thoughts on appropriate uses of technology. We provide perspective earned both by successes and our failures. Employees at The Circle think that enhanced technology automatically makes life better. Elders—and readers of The Circle—know the matter’s not that simple.

Perspective, however, isn’t all roses. Witness my short story “Beautiful!” in REED Magazine issue 69, the literary/arts annual of San Jose State University. I read a few pages Tuesday evening at the edition’s launch at Books Inc. in Mountain View. On his 80th birthday, a former astronaut marvels at how we can leap into space yet can’t—or won’t—provide for the basic needs of much of humanity. Old age and peace don’t always sync. The story’s ending is disturbing for a reason.

Still, while young people can learn from elders, elders must recognize the validity of youthful energy and ambition, and graciously yield their places to the young. Old age, after all, brings limitations—physical, intellectual, emotional. I’m still writing (and, I hope, making sense). I’m fit; I walk four to seven miles a day. But, for example, my night vision has worsened. Last week, we visited our son Yosi in middle Tennessee. He drove us on country roads at night. I’d have driven at half the speed. Actually, I wouldn’t have driven those roads at all. At night, I see 30 to 50 percent less than Yosi. That’s why many elders drive only in the daytime. Oh, and I’m in bed by ten, ten-thirty the latest.

Another caveat: Age doesn’t automatically confer wisdom. Many elders see the world through lenses distorted not only by physical weakening but also a lifetime of intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual limitations. Ignorant young people usually become ignorant seniors.

That said, if I can share any wisdom as another birthday approaches, it’s this: Each year I have fewer answers and more questions. Young people just might want to give that some thought.

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In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye the milkman in Anatevka declares, “It’s no shame to be poor. But it’s no great honor, either.” In America, however, poverty often is viewed as shameful. And poor or rich, so is growing older. The old—however you define them/us—are made irrelevant. Popular culture offers many examples. Of late, three caught my eye.

— In a TV commercial for Captain Morgan Rum set in a 17th-century Caribbean palace, a beautiful twenty-something woman dances at a formal reception with an older, bewigged and obviously lecherous man. Her face expresses disgust. His age definitely is a factor. He’s way too old—and way not cool. A dashing young Captain Morgan rescues her and takes her down to the basement and a hip party.

— A Samsung TV spot features young adults lined up for an Apple iPhone 5. One young man, a Samsung user, holds a spot in line. His parents show up to claim it. Dismay and revulsion sweep across the young people’s faces. How can an iPhone have any real worth if people fifty or older use it?

— In the last episode of the first TV season of Louie, the Emmy-winning comedian Louis C.K. hangs out with younger Black comics, who easily pick up three beautiful women. The women learn that Louis is forty—forty-two, he confesses. Their faces express horror. Louis has no shot. Wonderfully, the episode ends with Louis and his two young daughters enjoying a pancake breakfast at four in the morning. Yes, it’s late. Or early. But Louis has his priorities straight.

When I was in my teens and twenties, I too believed that my parents thought and acted old. They couldn’t possibly know what really mattered because I was in the process of discovering just what was and wasn’t important as defined by my generation. They’d lost touch—if they’d ever been in touch. In my thirties and a parent myself, I saw my parents as much more human. Wherever I was going in terms of the basic aspects of life—making a living, caring for a family, finding a place in society—I realized they’d blazed a trail before me.

I love the energy of youth. I had it once. But growing older generally means transitioning to a more settled life. I can’t stay out until three in the morning. I’m beat the next day if I’m up until midnight. Yet age often brings more wisdom and self-awareness. Not to mention humility. Having gone around the block a few times, we have fewer answers and more questions.

I was a much happier, more grounded person at fifty than at twenty. I’ve even made more progress towards becoming a reasonable human being in the eighteen years since I hit the half-century mark. No question, I still retain many weaknesses. Some I’ll never overcome. To a degree, I’ve learned how to cope. But I don’t delude myself that I’ll ever become a model for humanity. And I don’t worry about it. That’s the gift of growing older.

I certainly don’t encourage the young to embrace old age. There will be time for that. But I do encourage them to embrace their elders. And there’s no time like now.

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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at Which, by the way, received a great review and a coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at SLICK! also is now available at, and