HELP LINE: Seniors are not all the same

SOMETIMES, SOMETHING COMES along that reminds me that I have one of the best, if not one of the most lucrative, jobs in the time zone.

Actually, it wasn’t something. It was somebodies.

For reasons that are too mundane to waste your time relating, suffice it to say that I wound up having the opportunity to sit with and listen to about a dozen elders.

They ranged in age from a 70-something youngster to an effusive 101-year-old gal, who wore it well, with the majority in their 80s and 90s.

They had come to a place from all over the state, and had lived all over the country, and here’s what they all had in common: Nothing.

Well, OK, they all currently reside in a particular place, and they’re all old enough to know that they’re “old enough,” but beyond that, nothing.

See, it just drives me nuts (OK, an admittedly short drive) when people in my business (or any other business, for that matter) sit around and ruminate about “… what ‘seniors’ want” or what “seniors” might or might not do, or understand, or respond to, or devote their time to, etc.

As though “seniors” were recently spewed from the senior-making machine and, thus, share views, values, preferences, beliefs, habits, etc. Not likely.

This crowd was about as clone-like as … well, any other group of randomly selected adults. Not very.

They were all over the map with their politics, their religious beliefs, their social views, their families, their insurances, their incomes, their heritages and their customs.

Some were spry, some weren’t.

Some were svelte, some weren’t.

Some were talkative, while others were more … contemplative.

Some were activist, some weren’t.

I could go on, but I won’t.

In other words, I was sitting with a crowd of hardcore individuals who shared little other than an artificially imposed demographic accident, that being the simple fact that Medicare wasn’t news to anyone in the room.

Beyond that, forget it.

So, if I’d thought that I was going to learn about what seniors wanted, thought, or believed, I could forget about that, too. So, I did.

But here’s what I saw in that group of individuals in that place on that day: A staggering lack of fear.

When I asked them (because I did. You had to be there), “Are you afraid of dying?” some laughed out loud, some just smiled and the rest just shook their heads.

No, not that crowd. Not a one.

Different people said different things about that, but it all came down to an acceptance of what is.

Or what will be, someday.

But apparently not that day, because everyone there was alive.

It was as though they were past fear, and had moved on to an acceptance of life, that seemed to have lightened their loads, because they all laughed. A lot.

And while it was evident that some folks passionately disagreed with some other folks’ political and social views, there was an acceptance of that, too — and of those folks.

It wasn’t personalized or polarized into an us-versus-them situation.

It was always we. Acceptance.

Acceptance of their past tragedies, and there had been many.

Acceptance of lost loves, lost spouses, lost jobs and lost homes.

Acceptance of where (and who) family was … or wasn’t.

Acceptance of medical and physical realities, and whatever abilities might have been paid as the price of remaining alive.

Of getting past the fear and past the need to judge to acceptance.

They laughed. A lot.

They kidded one another, themselves and me.

And they generally seemed to think that life was pretty good. Not perfect, but pretty darned good.

Beyond that, forget about it.

Usually, when I’m in situations like that, people ask questions, and because I’m in the question-answering business, I make every reasonable attempt to answer.

This wasn’t a crowd who had a lot of questions.

Eventually it dawned on even me that they were in the same business I am: question-answering, if I had sense enough to ask.

So I did, which is what reminds me that I have one of the best jobs in the time zone.

Here I was, sitting in the middle of this incredible natural resource, and I’m going to answer questions for them? Not likely.

There was one other thing that I stole from that crowd: A deafening, and absolutely unspoken, definition of maturity.

Alas, I’ll have to tell my colleagues that I still have no idea what seniors want, but I can darn sure tell you what I want to be when I grow up.


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].

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