The people on my cul de sac do not move away. They live here, they get old here, and they usually die here. There is one house so big that the occupants change every time the family’s youngest child leaves home, but otherwise the residents stay put. Manyu and I have been in our house for thirty years, and most of the people now living on the street were here when we first arrived. This summer, however, three different houses changed ownership. Two were the result of deaths from heart disease, the third was a woman who had no choice but to move into a long-term care facility. I liked all of the former residents (in one case, I might have been the only person in the neighborhood who did), but their absence has been offset by a welcome influx of new kids on the block. Overall the codgers on my street are active and interesting people, but young faces have given the neighborhood a shot in the arm.
This morning I was sitting in my usual place on the front porch. Even though it was raining, three kids from one of the new families ran past my house and started doing laps around the circle at the end of the street. “It’s just like a running track for kids,” one of them shouted. They were soaked. They were not running in spite of the rain; they were running because of it. Except for the fact that I did not want to embarrass them (or myself), I might have joined them in the fun. The eight-year old and the ten-year old would have easily lapped me, but I could have pretended I was going slow to keep pace with the kindergartener.
I had more respect for old people before I became one. At one time I saw them as the caretakers of wisdom. Now they sometimes strike me as little more than opinionated whiners. We (as I include myself in the group) complain about young people. We grumble when our property taxes go up and our senior discounts go down. If the decision to build new schools was left to people over the age of sixty-five, there would never be a new school built. Thoreau wrote, “I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors.” I wouldn’t go as far as Thoreau in my assessment of old people, but there is something to his words.
I retired when I was 63 years old. Sixty-three also happens to be the average age of a US Senator. When I compare my retirement strategy to that of octogenarian politicians, I realize I am the one who got the timing right. My university department made good hires during my last few years on campus, and our younger faculty members were better trained and more energetic than I was. All they lacked was experience, and the best way for them to get experience was for me to mentor them for a year or two and then get out of the way. So that is what I did. Besides, I had things to do that had nothing to with my job. Thoreau also wrote, “I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one.” I agree with that quote wholeheartedly. It might be time for me to reread Walden.