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Saunders: ‘Grow old along with me’: Looking back and looking forward to 80

I began writing for the Times in August of 2012, almost nine years ago, at the age of almost 71, after I retired from my job as director of church & public relations at Carroll Lutheran Village. The column, on being a “senior,” was part of the Seniors section of the paper at the time, usually designating people who were over 65 – and I certainly fit that category. Back then I knew people who were not old even at 83 or 97 and marveled at people in their 80s and 90s that did not act old. But I also knew people who seemed “old” at 40 or 50!

The same is certainly true even today.

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Eventually that section of the paper became the “Prime” section dealing with issues for people considered to be in their prime – a category that seems to allow for a rather broad interpretation. In fact, age has become a moving target. In 2012, seniors were thought to be people ranging in age from 55 to 105+, a span of 50 years! I dare say that today “prime-ers” can be considered anybody from 50 and up; after all, AARP cards and discounts begin coming at age 50!

I recently saw on an email from a friend where the World Health Organization supposedly has done new research based on average health quality and life expectancy that divides age with a very new twist, that you may like, on an old concept:

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• 0 to 17 years old – underage

• 18 to 65 years old – youth or young age

• 66 to 79 years old – middle age

• 80 to 99 years old – elderly or senior

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• 100+ years old – long-lived elderly

Whereas the previous listing of ages grouped a large number as seniors, this listing reverses that grouping and expands the largest group from 18 to 65 – that’s 47 years – as youth or young age! AARP will have to revamp its mailings and 50-year-olds will have to wait until 66 to receive discounts. According to this odd new listing I will not become elderly or senior until I turn 80 years of age later this year.

In looking back over the nine years I’ve been writing this column — from the time I was a “senior” until now that I’m “middle aged” and in my “prime” — I wondered how my life has changed in my 70s.

In the beginning of that decade, I was keeping up a strenuous regimen of going to the gym five days a week and even getting involved in an aqua-fit class one day a week. My companions then included people in their 70s, 80s and 90s, all of us setting the resistance and workout numbers to our own liking and perseverance.

But guess what? That commitment slowly disappeared until I was no longer going to the gym regularly. Other things have cut into my commitment to my workout. I still walk three or four times a day, which is good but doesn’t really help my upper body.

Other things have intervened. I served six years on the Carroll Lutheran School Board, from 2009 to 2015, the last two as chair. I also served on the Commission on Aging & Disabilities from 2014 to 2019, 2017 to 2019 as chair. I’m still on a committee of the Residents’ Association of Carroll Lutheran Village, having served as its chair for three years prior to the pandemic. And my latest commitment is serving on the Carroll County Food Sunday Board since 2019 and now as the president. All of these service projects have been and are very worthwhile and have been a source of many blessings in my life.

Other blessings have included the writing and printing of the book, “Mandy’s Story,” about a cousin who was born with spina bifida and endured many surgeries during her 37 years of life but who packed into those 37 years much inspiration and joy for others! The writing of this column has also been a blessing to me, as I hope that it has been a source of pleasure for my readers.

In the midst of the blessings my body has gotten older and less resilient, I’m sad to say, especially from ailments in my genes and from not pursuing the benefits of the gym! I am less nimble and arthritis has demanded my attention with hip replacement surgery in 2019. I am facing carpel tunnel syndrome surgery on both hands and problems with my knees and back. I bet some of you reading this column can relate.

Well, the 70s are flying by, and in six months I will be 80! Philosophically, the first stanza of Robert Browning’s poem, “Rabbi Ben Ezra,” that I have used in this column before, still holds true:

Grow old along with me!

The best is yet to be,

The last of life, for which the first was made:

Our times are in His hand

Who saith “A whole I planned,

Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”

To that I would add a couple of lines in the next to the last stanza of the same poem that I have not used before in this column:

But I need, now as then,

Thee, God, who mouldest men (to which I will take poetic license and add “women”)

My suggestion to you prime-ers reading this column: Don’t mind your age; you are in your “prime” no matter whether your number is 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 or 100, since prime means the best years of our life as long as we recognize our need! So, come, “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be,” and let’s try to get back to the gym!

Hermine Saunders writes from Westminster. Her Prime column appears once a month in Life & Times.

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