Columnist Jim Cahillane: Aging all over the place

  • KEVIN GUTTINGJames F. Cahillane of Williamsburg. KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ilene Lorow, of Westhampton, left, and Anne Torrey, of Northampton, react as Tom Ricardi shows off a Harris Hawk to the crowd during an educational demonstration on rehabilitated birds of prey Thursday during a Westhampton Council on Aging gathering at Westhampton Congregational Church. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 12/26/2018 1:01:53 AM

“To tell the truth,” said President Trump, “I think that he may be sort of a Democrat.” His subject was outgoing Defense Secretary and Marine General Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis, he of the tired look and baggy eyes. Mattis was quick to note that he has never declared himself a member of any political party. I don’t care, except I noticed General Jim looks well beyond 68 years. I’m no beauty, but I joined the Air Force the year that Mattis was born.

How bad do you think that makes me feel, Google?

At this point, I’m thinking about aging in general, and I don’t mean just Jim Mattis. Aging comes to us all — Mattis just doesn’t carry it well.

Williamsburg’s senior center has a new director in Jennifer Hoffman. Along with her staff and volunteers, Jennifer’s goals are to cheerfully assist all elders with services critical for some and important to everyone. I’m one of a handful of seniors on the Council On Aging Advisory Board. Memo: Hanging around with one’s peers brings on a mixed bag of emotions.

The first is a question: How the heck did I get here? Which reminds me of a comment by my late friend, legendary “Hamp” car salesman Charlie (Spud) Murphy: “If I knew that I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”

In my youthful 60s, I was too busy to spend time around seniors. In my 70s, I began to realize that they all were pretty much like me. In my 80s, I came to realize that I require a passel of new friends of similar yet different experiences. Discovery is not only for the young.

Until I got involved, I didn’t know that the Council on Aging (COA) was a department of municipal government in Massachusetts. Someone up there thinks that aging well is as important as police, fire and public works.

I’ve come to realize that believing aging was none of my business was wrongheaded. We admire countries that hold elders and educators in great respect. Today, a more caring America has joined them but needs wise and accepting seniors to get with the program and support it.

At one time, it took a lot of tweaking to change my attitude, and not only from the winces in my sport-damaged knees. I could tell you many tales, if you have the time. Unsurprisingly, I do!

The genius of the COA concept is that seniors work with a hometown director to identify needs and work out solutions cooperatively. It’s a bottom up approach that offers flexibility and is changing Massachusetts’ cities and towns for the better. You could wait around to be asked to use the skills that took a lifetime to acquire or you could pick up the phone and ask, “What needs doing?” Why waste another day when you could prove to yourself that life is far from over. Just moving helps to forget today’s aches and pains.

Williams Shakespeare succinctly described the ages of mankind in “As You Like It.” The Bard baldly reminds us we’re all actors on the world’s stage. Humanity proceeds through seven ages with little variation. We are at first infants, then schoolchildren, lovers, ambitious careerists; soon, briefly satisfied dreamers until aging tiptoes into the picture. Followed by an old head sporting unstylish spectacles and a slowing pace?

But that’s only six ages — then what? In the 17th century, Shakespeare beheld life’s latest stage as one of loss — a weakening voice, missing teeth, fading memory and childlike reasoning.

That was his era’s truth. Our 21st century mindset is that growing old is for other people. I’m not going there. I will walk, run and swim into a future of my own design. Those nice folks at the COA are not my type. To my mind, I’m forever 35 — OK, maybe 40 — but that’s it!

“Doctor, I have this pain.” That’s how it begins. In my case, it was a gallbladder. That invasion was followed in the way that our WWII Marines island-hopped across the Pacific: TIA stroke, prostate, bladder, colon, an ostomy, hernia and ostomy repair, frozen knee joint, cataracts, leaky heart valve and balance issues. Each of us has a unique list. The good news is that few folks want to dwell on the past. Tomorrow’s a lot more interesting. If you have the luxury of time and some energy to spare, why not use it?

For example, driving someone on a necessary errand. You give up a little time but make the world better for a day.

Northampton has a wonderful senior center thanks to local seniors who pushed and pushed for years to make it become a reality. Hadley voters have approved one for their town. The facilities in Haydenville may be less impressive from the outside but are full of heart within. Our menu options are many: good food, health and safety seminars, exercise groups, music, with friendly people offering assistance in utilizing benefit programs.

Initiatives abound in town. A theater group, book discussions and a top-notch library are choices — a complete list would take up too much of this space, yet there’s room for you and your contributions for sure.

Log into your senior center’s website for what’s happening. As my bargain wall plaque advises: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

I wish you the blessing of a happy and healthy New Year!

Writer Jim Cahillane lives in Burgy. He values the year-in, year-out work of his community-building friends at Williamsburg’s Senior Center.

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