The Last Refrigerator and Other Thoughts on Aging
By Robert Ross
For a second or so I couldn’t let go. It was a paralysis — the electrical shock had me in its grip. I shook my hand loose and let out a loud Geezzz!!! This was getting to be a daily habit. Grab the refrigerator handle while touching any other metal in the kitchen and receive the shock of your life.
Decisions on practical matters often call into play the sum of our characteristics as people. For example, I walk a fine line in life between the metaphysical world and the practical world. The metaphysical side is always asking, is there some kind of message here, is there a reason for unusual events that occur in life? Is the “shocking” refrigerator part of a grander scheme, with lessons to be learned? The practical side says, “hey, dummy, it’s just time for a new refrigerator, that’s it!”
Our current refrigerator has lasted about twenty years and by my calculations, a new refrigerator would probably be our last, at least in our current living arrangement. Oh my . . ., I thought to myself. How could something as mundane as a kitchen appliance suddenly take on such significance? I was getting older and time was moving forward at a speed hard to fathom. Our last refrigerator?
I didn’t quite know whether to joke or become mildly depressed. I opted for humor . . . “hey, this is our last lap in life, maybe we should consider a stainless steel refrigerator. After all, stainless steel is the Cadillac of refrigerator finishes.” Our last refrigerator. . . it had a “last meal” ring to it. This was it, time to get one’s affairs in order.
We headed out to Sears, Home Depot, and Lowes to see what this kitchen appliance — this metaphor for life and age would cost.
Age is Age is Age
There are certain inevitable truths in life. One is, that as we age, we are more prone to health issues. Type “the effects of aging” into your favorite search engine and you will find articles with titles such as: “the Effects of Aging on Vision,” “the Effects of Aging on Sexuality,” “the Effects of Aging on Older Drivers” and “the Effects of Aging on the Skin.” These are the more positive subject titles.
After the article on skin was an article on the brain. The article started with: “Two thirds of all people eventually experience some significant loss of mental lucidity and independence as a result of aging . . .”
Curious, I asked a few baby-boomers about their thoughts on aging, the upside and the downside. Perhaps there were some universal truths on dealing with growing older. The responses were revealing.
Alan, who is fifty-eight said that what he likes best about aging is that he “is in more control of his life, less erratic and more focused. He’s in a safe place, financially and emotionally and has choices about the direction of his life.” When I asked about the downside, Alan cited health issues, “not being able to do what he used to do, new irritations, new ailments, and physical limitations” as his main dissatisfaction with getting older.
Paul, who is also fifty-eight, stated that aging has “allowed him to look back to a life of value, sense of accomplishment and achievement, and a feeling that he’s made a contribution.” The downside for Paul, like Alan, was health concerns and new physical limitations.
Susan, age 60, had a different take on aging. When asked what the positive side of aging was, she stated that “people seem to trust me, my ‘wisdom,’ particularly at work — as a counselor.” She also stated that her clients knew she “had been around, had experience,” even if, at the same time, they tended to dismiss her as not being a “player” in their younger world. When asked about the negatives of getting older, Susan stated “for me the negatives focus on health, and not looking as ‘good,’ and feeling old.”
Statistics and Other Thoughts
The government has compiled statistics on aging, covering everything from life expectancy to chronic health issues (http://www.agingstats.gov/). The statistics can be viewed as a preview of things to come for those who are reaching retirement age. What seems to trump all issues for the aging population, from relationships to economics, is health.
In 2003, there were almost 36 million people age 65 and over living in the United States, accounting for just more than 12 percent of the total population But in a few years (2011), the “baby-boom” generation will begin to turn 65, and by 2030, it is projected that twenty-percent will be age 65 or older.
In 2003 Alan Greenspan spoke before a Special Senate Committee on Aging. He was blunt in his assessment: “As you know, the aging of the population in the United States will have significant effects on our fiscal situation. In particular, it makes our Social Security and Medicare programs unsustainable in the long run . . .”
The demographics of the U.S. will be changing significantly in the coming years. What is certain about this change is, our Social Security and Medicare systems will have to be dramatically re-configured to meet these new pressures.
The challenges ahead for the country make thoughts on a new refrigerator seem frivolous, nonetheless, life is in the details, in the small things, in those decisions that make us who we are.
The Fridge and
After looking and listening to various sales pitches, we decided on our new refrigerator. It’s not stainless, that wouldn’t fit our kitchen theme.
I know that in the weeks to come, every time I grab the new refrigerator handle, I’ll think about that shock I used to receive, and know that there was, for me, a lesson learned. One could say my old refrigerator was trying to shock me into a new realization. It was saying “hey buddy, your time’s runnin’ out. Don’t waste it!” If that was the message, I got it, loud and clear. Time is running out.
So look for the July/August Reflexions column to be on life in New Zealand.
After all, this is the last lap in my life and I’ve got a lot of ground to cover
and a lot of living still to do.
Robert Ross can be reached at SanDiegoRoss@Yahoo.com
Copyright 2005 by Robert Ross, all rights reserved
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