Books - like popular tunes - can get in your head and stay there.
I recently read "Patrimony," for instance, Philip Roth's loving look at his father's last years. The theme of the book is the difficulty we have linking hands across a generation.And since I keep "hearing" the book in my head, I decided to jot down my own impressions about the people we once called "Old Folks."
The media tends to focus on how active and "young" our country's oldsters are. And I think that's great. Making Social Security payments to people so vital and full of vigor is a pleasure.
Still, I think we often forget that the true value of people over 70 isn't in the fact they're "young," but the fact they're old. They teach us hundreds of lessons without even realizing it.
Here are five things, for example, I've learned from people over 70:
1. I've learned that older people have a better sense of direction and distance than young people do. I know when I talk with my neighbor, Gus, he'll say things like "Then we drove a couple of hundred yards out on the bridge. We must have been a quarter mile above the river. . ."
I can't speak that accurately.
Members of the current "me" generation spend a lot of time trying to "find themselves," but past generations knew right where they were: They were 200 yards from this and and a quarter mile from that.
I'm amazed at the way old people can pinpoint their location on this planet as clearly as pirates could pinpoint treasure on a map.
And in my book, that makes them a treasure.
2. People over 70 have taught me to cut away the clutter in my life and hold onto the things that matter - family, memories, feelings, photographs . . .
They've shown me Voltaire was right:
In all things people begin with the simple, the complex comes later. Then, with superior enlightenment, one often comes back to the simple at last. This is the course of the human mind.
3. People over 70 know the expression "You can't take it with you" is wrong. You can take things with you - you can take other people. By sharing their personal experiences and insights with me, old people have guaranteed I'll be taking them along when I go.
4. Old people have shown me we're more deeply bound to the people in our lives than we ever dare guess.
We all feel emotionally "linked" to family and friends, but the true depth and strength of those bonds isn't felt until someone passes away. Old people know this. They know that relationships teens toss off as casual "family ties" are - in reality - more powerful than forged bands of steel.
5. And old people have shown me that true sex appeal has nothing to do with age. It isn't about flat bellies and firm thighs. True "sexiness" is about sensitivity, a sense of humor and a soft flame somewhere behind the eyes. I can honestly say that Utah writer Olive Ghiselin is one of the sexiest women I know.
Last time I checked, Olive was 82.