The Oldie…but Goldie
When you’re past 50, and certainly 60 plus, some of us start feeling old…really old. At least we’re still here, which beats the alternative when you consider how many friends and relatives of our vintage we’ve lost to death.
I knew I was heading north in the numbers chronologically, when I saw recently the movie, The Intern, and found 72-year-old Robert De Niro actually cute and sexy rather than old. OK, OK, he may not be Tom Cruise, Chris Marten, Ed Sheeran of the younger set, but he has a dazzling smile, nice head of gray hair, great wardrobe in the movie, especially those pocket squares, and that je ne sais quoi quality that guys around his age also do such as Harrison Ford and Bill Clinton, or in Bill’s case before he became a vegan and got too thin.
Most recently, the reality of feeling older seriously kicked in when I stepped into the office of my alma mater to meet three new staff members, whom I’d be working with on the regular volunteer assignments I do. I knew immediately that I was a seasoned alum when I walked into the group’s new swank office with big glass panes overlooking the Hudson River instead of the charming, homey rooms in the building where I previously met with staff, and which I loved. We sat around a big table, akin to a lovely dining table that encouraged camaraderie and conversation. The new quarters screamed out MILLENNIALS with its one low coffee table rather than a conference table.
The scene was not too dissimilar from the Brooklyn warehouse in The Intern, with one exception–I didn’t see anyone pedaling around on a bicycle as Anne Hathaway does in the film.
When I stepped into the meeting in a nice corner office that conveyed status–and offered privacy, the three staff members were more than half my age. I felt like an elder statesman. When they asked what year I had graduated, I initially gave the wrong date. It wasn’t a deliberate lie, just a Freudian slip I think about wanting to shave off a few years. I quickly corrected myself and thought, what was I thinking?
When our conversation continued after we finished our “work,” I shared how much the college had changed, including now being able to house all students on campus, which hadn’t been the case before when I attended. When one of the staff members mentioned that her parents had been involved in her choosing this college–and looked to me for agreement, I explained that I had gone decades before helicopter-parents started swooping in. Mine allowed me to make the initial decision where I wanted to go, write for the course catalogs by snail mail, and fill out my applications on my own on a typewriter! Hint: There weren’t computers and certainly not email back then.
We moved on to talk about staying in touch with parents while at college, and my mind clicked back to weekly telephone calls with my folks from a pay phone rather than by emails or texts. However, the biggest blank stare I got was when I mentioned having the “test” dream or nightmare and how in my day it involved not having enough time to write all my essay question answers down in the soft-cover, lined, blue book notebooks we were given.
What was I thinking? Of course, they wouldn’t know about these since in recent decades, students take their computers and tablets to the library to research, to class to take notes, and certainly into exams.
But I discovered that being among these much younger souls turns out to be a two-way street. If you’re Robert De Niro, a retired widower looking to fill up some empty time in a productive way, you end up returning the favor by sharing important life lessons with those much younger when you see them struggling. Or, if you’re a 1971 college graduate wanting to say thanks for a great education by helping in a variety of ways, you end up showing that the older set isn’t looking to throw in the towel and sit at home drinking “Mad Men” era cocktails and play bridge.
Today, there’s so much criticism about this younger generation not knowing how to participate in meaningful people-to-people conversations for long spells before they feel the need to check their texts and emails, addressed in a recent article in The New York Times newspaper, “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk” by Sherry Turkle). I find, however, when you engage them in common ground–work, volunteering, eating, cooking, working out, whatever–they’re extremely poised, passionate, and articulate and very willing to converse for long stretches. Moreover, they really want to embrace us, they just need to make the generational leap from emoijis to real hugs, which are so much more satisfying. But they have time to learn.