Saturday, September 21, 2013

Growing Older (Not Necessarily Better)

"Sometimes I just can't stand people!"

I was stunned to hear this from a cheerful, outgoing woman I'll call Ginny. We were winding up a community HOA board meeting here the other day when she brought up an issue she found troubling: a dear friend and neighbor of hers is putting her house on the market because her next door neighbors have made life unbearable.

Her friend has severe asthma, Ginny told us, and all kinds of smoke can trigger an attack. Her neighbors have not only started a Cigar Club, whose 20+ members meet and smoke in the back yard more evenings than not, but also her neighbors have a wood-fueled fire pit that burns and smokes for hours every evening, even summer evenings where the temperatures linger in the triple digits well after dark. This woman cannot enjoy her own patio any longer and is finding the smoke seeping into her home. For her health, she needs to flee the premises.

The manager for our developer (our community is still being built) looked puzzled. "Can't she just talk reasonably with her neighbors?" he asked. "So often, these disputes can be worked out if the two parties sit down and talk."

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Obviously, that has been tried and it hasn't worked," she said. "Because her neighbors are selfish assholes who think that their rights to do anything they wish trumps another's right to breathe and to enjoy her own home. I never cease to be amazed. You'd think that people would get kinder, mellower, more considerate with age. But some people...." She trailed off, disconsolately.

It's true. As you age, you become more of what you were before.

Like any community, we have our share of jerks who ooze obnoxiousness and probably always have:

The grizzled guy who guzzles coffee daily at the community center while hitting on the young women at the Fitness Desk as if he were doing them a giant favor.

The bombast who holds forth daily in the community center lobby. His idol is Rush and his political philosophies, loudly voiced, veer sharply toward conspiracies of all varieties.

The bully who amused himself by terrorizing a female neighbor, living alone, who was grieving the unexpected end of a long marriage, fighting overwhelming depression and, for a time, had a very short temper fuse. He loved stirring things up, upsetting her to the screaming point and then calling the police to report that he was living across the street from a crazy lady.

The gossip who has nothing good to say about anybody and who considers herself to be the world's expert on all matters.

It isn't just the easily identifiable jerks who threaten to become pains in old age. The rest of us have our moments.

There's a little of the jerk and the bore in all of us. One of the challenges in this stage of life is to tame the jerk and let one's best qualities shine through. We do have a choice.

It's a choice we can make on a daily, hourly, minute-to-minute basis

Just for today....

I promise not to tell anyone more than they really want to know about medical concerns, about work details, about my own struggles.

I promise not to get mired in my own troubles and concerns. When I have low moments and look around, I'm ashamed as I consider possible confidantes: Mary, whose beloved husband is disappearing further into dementia and who has vowed that every day he has left will be at home in her care; my friend Phyllis, who is receiving both chemotherapy for late stage colon cancer and thrice weekly dialysis for kidney failure; my friend Jeanne who has been battling health challenges for some time and who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. I don't think so. I have my health. Everything else is small stuff.

I promise to listen, without judgment, when someone tells me a very different life story or who has opinions that differ considerably from mine.

I promise not to grouse about texting when I get a text -- and just answer it.

I promise not to keep score of how often I hear from loved ones and simply celebrate when I do get an email, a call or a visit.

I promise to tackle projects and just do what I planned to do -- instead of boring those close to me by obsessing about the details, over and over, in advance.

I promise to put down my work, the newspaper, the latest book and smile and reach out to those I love at regular intervals today.

I promise to throw away or give away at least one unused or unwanted item.

I promise to walk by the kitten and cat adoption center at Pet Smart without wondering aloud if adding another abandoned feline to our brood would be reasonable. It's not reasonable. Five cats would be total insanity. Our four cats are wonderful both with us and together. I won't mess with that.

I promise to stifle the urge to accumulate altogether too many cat pictures on my new iPhone.

I promise not to fall into rosy remembering of how life used to be when we were young, when I was slender and pain-free, when people actually wrote letters, when people said "You're welcome!" instead of "No problem." Life then had its tough challenges. And life today has so many joys.

I promise to think more of others, less of myself; to reach out, even when it's uncomfortable or inconvenient.

I promise to be kind in any way possible.

Just for today.


  1. Dear Kathy, and I promise to try and like people a bit better.
    That would be a great start for me.

    I promise to stop being so cynical. And judgmental, And suspicious.

    O dear, is there a chance for us as we get older? It’s totally true, we all become more of who we always were and when the breaks are off, as they inevitably are when we no longer discipline ourselves and our behaviour as thoroughly as we did when we were working and getting the kids through school or making the most of difficult times, we turn inwards and become more and more self-centred. For many old people the world shrinks.

    There are a lot of old people in our community here and, although most of them are sweet and kind and friendly, their less appealing habits also show.

    We can only forgive ourselves and each other and do the best we can.

    1. There's so much wisdom in your thoughts, Friko, and I love your last line about forgiving ourselves and each other. So true! Thanks so much!

  2. Kathy there is some good to be had from tolerance but sometimes there is a time to say no. In the case of the neighbors who smoke and burn fire in the back yard, well when I had stuff like this going on I called the police.
    It is ok if the smoke stays on their property but once it goes onto mine it becomes my rights that are abused just like the marijuana smells. She can also take signatures of other neighbors, who may also not like this disturbance. The wind blows in many directions lol She should report it to the city and to the local papers.Once she make life tough on them, they will either stop or move.
    I had tons of marijuana smell just sitting heavy in my yard. Apart from there being a fire hazard from the sparks, she has a right to clean air in her back yard . People always run rather than fight and stick it out. If more people stood their ground, people would learn to behave. This is why we need to keep the 10 Commandments alive because they teach respect and honor.
    People today have no idea what words mean. It doesn't stop there either. You see it on city streets,in store line ups,in buses,and not to mention on TV where you are forced to listen to bad language. Chelsea Lately said that she had to show she was a bad girl to make it on her show. The kids learn and behave badly at home because lets face it they have rights and one day parents find themselves dead cause they were not nice enough to these kids.
    Tolerance has limits.Today the wrong people are heard.

    1. I agree that tolerance has limits. But some neighbors are just incorrigible. Sad but true.

  3. This should be required reading for all of us! To me, it takes more effort to antagonize and bully others, in addition to all the other terrible things that come with those traits. If folks like that could just learn gentleness and tolerance, they and their neighbors would be so much happier.

    And Kathy, I've been thinking of so many of the wise things you write. They were very much in my mind when I wrote my latest post, and I want to thank you for consistently putting up such wise and helpful pieces for us.

    1. Oh, my goodness, Shelly -- thanks so much! I did check out your latest post and just loved it! It was such a tender look at your aging parents and the similarities you're spotting, the aspects of them that you notice and cherish, and what a great trio you are within a larger, loving family. It's just wonderful. I'm so glad you still have your parents and hope you'll have a long time still to enjoy each other!

  4. I am watching the neighbor across the street and it looks like he's running a scrap metal demolishing business and a collect-old-tires business. Trying to decide whether to call the police. I'm on the planning commission and I know he needs to have a license to run a business out of his driveway.

    But I don't want to be an old crabby woman.

    Still thinking about it!

    1. Ugh! Bad sort of neighbor to have! Isn't it amazing how we edit ourselves at times because we don't want to be crabby oldsters! I'm telling you, Linda: that neighbor would bother anyone of any age!

  5. Very sad story about the woman who feels as if she has to move... BUT--people these days seem so SELFISH and SELF-CENTERED... It's an attitude out there where people truly don't seem to care about humankind anymore...

    We are in Williamsburg, VA on vacation. I noticed today while walking down a sidewalk that people coming toward me didn't even try to move out of the way --so that we could 'share' the sidewalk. I was the one who had to move over... Otherwise, they would have bumped into me. Wonder why???? What has happened to us???? Very sad.

    Great post, Kathy
    AND "just for today" is a list we should all write down --and live by --even if it is "Just for Today"....

    1. Yes, isn't it interesting? You know what I found fascinating lately -- when I flew to Kansas to visit my cousin -- the people offering to help me hoist my bag to the overhead bin or who got up in a crowded waiting area to offer me a place to sit were all young women. The young dudes sat in place, connected to their MP3 players, totally oblivious. While I don't think I really need help with a suitcase or for someone to give up their seat for me quite yet, I was impressed that several young women were instantly willing to do so.

  6. My beef is with supermarket aisles getting blocked by jackknifed carts and operators deep in some sort of shopping-meditation. I'm loathe to disturb them and take the scenic route. We do seem to have descended into a selfish society and, if we all made half the good promises you posted, life would be happier --or at least as happy as I remember it only a decade or two ago.

    1. Oh, I totally understand about those supermarket aisles! Definitely irritating. As far as the promises go, so far so good except for a few more cat pictures that happened to sneak onto my iPhone!

  7. I love the last line -- just for today. Because from today there is tomorrow and the next. One day at a time. I love your list -- it's wonderful. And you are spot on about how we might have strong tendencies to be more of who we are the older we grow. I'll have to watch that -- we all must!

    I send warm wishes to Ginny's friend. I really feel for her. I wish her neighborhood club could find their own little stinky club house!

    1. Thanks so much, Jeanie! I think keeping the promises day by day makes it seem more do-able and, as you say, builds a momentum.

      Yes, I wish, too, that the Cigar Club would convene to a shack in the middle of the desert. Fat chance. They feel entitled. But thanks for your warm wishes. I'll pass them on!

      And congratulations on your recent retirement! I've loved reading about your long and lovely leave-taking at your office. What a wonderful way to go out and to begin your new phase of life!

  8. I hope that some of your wisdom rubs off on me.

  9. As always there is so much wisdom in this post, Kathy. You're so right that with age we become more fully the people we are, but also that we can still hold in the bad aspects and encourage the good parts of ourselves by creating our own Just For Today list.

    i do hope your friend's driend can sell her house quickly and find a better place to live. Such selfishness on the part of her neighbours..

  10. One day at a time is often the only way to get worthwhile things done! Thank you for the reminder :)

  11. Your blogs are ALWAYS so right on and this one is no exception. My daughter must have been related to yout in another life! She has four inside cats and also feeds several "wild" cats who come into their yard!
    "Just for today" is perfect.