Tuesday, November 15, 2011


There are many losses on the bumpy road to old age. Everyone struggles to avoid, or more realistically, to postpone the loss of youthful beauty and vigor, of fading vision and hearing, and the dreaded loss of memory. Then, there is the tragic loss of cherished family and friends.

In recent years, there have been some contributions that have helped to make some of the bumps less traumatic – medical advances, more knowledge about the role of nutrition and exercise, cosmetic surgery. But this is a piece about loss, not new horizons, for the elderly.

For me, a major loss is the gradual erosion of ambition – that passion to achieve a particular goal and the willingness to work hard to achieve it. It seems to me I’ve always set goals for myself and enjoyed the process of getting there. Like most things in life, getting there is half the fun. That is what I miss. I have to acknowledge that on some level. I feel as ambitious as ever, but the reality is that old age puts a roadblock on getting there.

Many people welcome an end to the “fire in the belly” – that pressure to perform and achieve. They are the ones who look forward to retirement and its freedom from stress. Sometimes, they find even freedom has its own stress and the process of getting old doesn’t stop.

Then there are those, like me, who need to find avenues where that fire brightens their older years, even though its light is not as bright, its heat not as warming; but as Edna St. Vincent Millay once put it in a different context, “but ah my foes, and oh, my friends, it gives a lovely light.”


I had been invited to dinner at my nephew’s home. When he came to the door to greet me, he said, “Come on in, we’re stalking Jennifer.” What he meant was that the guests who had already arrived, were looking at pictures, hundreds of pictures that Jennifer had sent from Princeton, where she just started her freshman year! There were pictures of her new roommate, the posters on the walls of her dormitory room, of her bed, even her closet. So many pictures! I was quickly tired of them, eager to talk to the other guests, to be in the real world, but the others wanted to see every one of the scenes of Jennifer’s new life.
It was not the first time I had wondered about this new and common practice of parents and grandparents and great-grandparents living in the digital world, living vicariously through the lives of their offspring, through pictures or Facebook.
The word my nephew has used – stalking seemed suddenly appropriate. I have seen pictures on an iPad of Jennifer at her high school prom. I’ve seen her low-cut dress and the dresses of her friends. I’ve seen their breasts almost fully exposed and their bare feet after they’ve kicked off their high heels. I’ve seen her prom date. I’m surprised that there wasn’t a picture of Jennifer and her date “making out” – I suppose that’s yet to come.

Not too long ago, some friends showed me pictures of their children at sleep-away camp. I saw where they swam, where they ate, where they slept. I saw them pitching a baseball and doing a back stroke in the water. I saw them singing around a campfire.

My friends exclaimed how lucky they felt to share these experiences with their children. Lucky? I remember, even though it was so long ago, how lucky I felt going to camp and then away to college – that I was given an opportunity to be on my own, to find out that I could survive without my parents there to help and intervene for me, not even to know about my life away from home. I think the roots of my self-esteem were planted in those days. Then there are the children of my generation – the children of the 60s and 70s, the children of the free speech movement and the light cast by “the diamonds in the sky.” (Beattles) They left home to cross the country or to hitchhike in Europe and Asia. There were no cell phones, no long distance calls except in an emergency. Occasionally there was a letter that arrived weeks after it was written. Pictures? If they had a camera, the pictures were developed after they returned home. And they weren’t that good!

Today, almost every young person has a good camera, an iPad, a smart phone. This modern technology serves as a bond between parents and children, as does Facebook and Twitter. It serves as a way of keeping in touch as never before.
Does the bond interfere with learning to be independent, to develop one own life style and direction? Who is to say?

What we can say is that the world constantly changes and evolves. Tomorrow these will be a new Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg to change the world again and that tomorrow is not very far off.