Generation Shift

December 15, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Auto-Biography

Our row house, in addition to being the place that I conduct business, is where meetings occur for local peace, justice and environmental organizations.  Three days ago when I got home from the hospital, there was a meeting of one of the local groups.  Folks had heard about the aneurysm.  I answered questions.

Some folks are close friends.  Others I’ve known for years.  There are some people I’ve known for a long time but haven’t had a conversation with outside these group discussions.  While we were eating Marcia’s meatloaf, Charlene’s fresh garden tomatoes with basil and homemade soup, Dick approached me, noting that he’d heard about my adventures.  Dick is in his early to mid-80s.

“I heard about your, your….your…”

“Aneurysm.  It’s not serious.  No symptoms.  Scary, though.”

“Which hospital did you go to?”

“Evanston.”

Dick observed, “You know, the food over there isn’t that bad.  I was surprised at the variety of alternatives available on the menu.”

“Indeed, you live close enough to the hospital that you could consider walking over there for supper.”  Dick lives almost across the street.

Dick and I started talking.  We hadn’t really talked much before but for short exchanges on various political actions we were both involved in.  Dick described a heart condition and the intervention that included an apparatus living inside his chest.  I found myself engaged by his choice of conversation.  I’d never been one to identify closely with the physical repercussions of growing older.  My grandmother had been a hypochondriac.  I’d always mentally and emotionally withdrawn from old folks’ descriptions of their conditions.

Something had changed.

Over the course of the weekend, I had changed generations.  At 55, I was still a generation from my parents and their contemporaries.  With the weekend’s news, I’d shifted to that group of folks that could die at any time.  Dick perceived that I was vulnerable, vulnerable and able to identify with his condition.  Dick was right.  In two days, my horizons had widened to include the older folks I knew and the situation they faced daily.  I was in the midst of an identity shift.

It strikes me that old folks aren’t just isolated by the shutting down of their sensory systems, mobility constraints and difficulty expressing themselves.  There is a gap between an older person’s experience of vulnerability and most of the rest of the world’s feeling of being relatively unthreatened.  The elderly are isolated because they are exposed.

The trick for me now is to let myself feel vulnerable without feeling isolated.  Clearly, this is a day-to-day challenge.  Luckily, I have good friends and family to accompany me on the journey.


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