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In praise of growing old

Pete Aarssen's picture
Thu, 05/02/2019 - 12:18 -- Pete Aarssen

Most of us, not yet senior citizens, seldom consider what life will be like when we are say, 75 or 80 years young! Why do I say young; well, maybe because while I used to hold a paradigm that wasn’t very friendly to our aged elders among us, a visit to my barber recently changed that! I digress. Years ago, while stuck driving behind someone else driving at the posted speed limit, I can vividly recall saying, with a good level of frustration in my voice to my then, newlywed wife, ‘You watch, it will be an old man wearing a hat’; and, it was! The fact that he was obeying the law and wasn’t deliberately choosing to delay my travel never entered into my mind… then! Fast forward to today! I am in my late 50’s and you might say that while I haven’t yet started to wear a hat while driving, I can imagine placing an order for one soon! That brings me to my recent trip to the barber. My barber has a great following; very skilled at his craft and trying hard to retire; but his devoted customers won’t hear of it. He still works one scheduled day a week and another, from time to time, despite being in his mid-70’s. I knew his shop would be busy the week before Easter so I arrived early; 6:45 a.m. and to my surprise, I was still 5th in line to be served. Pleased to be in the que at all, I read the paper and surveyed the other customers to ensure to take my proper place in order. When it approached my time to be served, as the fellow just ahead of me was called, I took notice that he was walking with a cane; not with any difficulty but the cane drew my attention. I am glad it did. I watched him take his seat in the chair and found myself eavesdropping on the conversation between he and our barber. It turns out, he had arrived closer to 6 a.m., in the dark and was also happy to get into the que of our barber’s only scheduled workday before Easter weekend. He spoke confidently, with good diction, volume and vocabulary. He had a great head of hair and a full white beard; just like St. Nick’s! As the barber began cutting his long-ish hair, I caught him cautioning the barber with words like ‘Not too short now’ and later, ‘no shorter, I like it that long’. I chuckled under my breath. In good spirits he shared proudly that he was turning 99 the following week. He did not look a day over 75! As the barber ended his work and the customer left the chair, I saw him get briskly into his bright, candle apple red compact car and drive away. I couldn’t help notice the easily identifiable, veteran denoted license plate on his car. The men in the now full barber shop had also been eavesdropping and were sharing their bewilderment that this young-looking, young-acting, soon to be 99 year-old had such a robust demeaner. Someone quipped ‘He probably served in WWII and another replied, ‘Likely both world wars’. There is a lesson here for all of us. Despite his having likely seen it all in his very long life, probable illnesses experienced both personal and familial, serving in at least one international conflict and weathering the personal ravages common to old age with optimism and vigor. It is usually the celebrities in life that are held out as worthy of emulation. Ok, here are a few more familiar, Canadians whose current ages provide example to live the maxim that ‘you are never too old to make a difference’. Margaret Atwood and Donald Sutherland will both be 80 this year, David Suzuki is 83 and William Shatner and Christopher Plummer are 88 and 89 respectively but if you ask me, it is the ordinary people in life, like this fellow in the Barber shop, who continue to exercise their hard earned personal liberties and freedoms; who refuse to concede to the confines of old age as determined by society that inspire me the most! 

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