Solar power, wind power and the clothes line: A new idea

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Unabridged from my Bonus Years column in the Lifestyle section of The Sunday Capital, Annapolis, Maryland

Many writers assert that wisdom is the combination of knowledge plus experience.  

However, truth be told, as I slide through my bonus years, I am coming to the view that patience and perspective (or discernment) may be the really important virtues that come with aging.

Too many of the popular culture images of aging portray those in their bonus years as irritable, cantankerous and argumentative – think of Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathau in "Grumpy Old Men."

"Grumpy…" makes me laugh, but I don't really know many grumpy old men – or women, for that matter.  Well, maybe a couple, but not more.  

When facing a disagreeable situation, most later-life people I encounter are more likely to say, "No worries" than they are to say, "Put your lip over your head…and swallow," as Matthau says to Lemmon in "Grumpy…"

In fact, my (increasing) experience with people in later life is more like what we see between that older Jewish woman (Jessica Tandy) and her elderly African-American chauffeur (Morgan Freeman) in "Driving Miss Daisy" – where the two develop a warm, patient  and respectful relationship that grows and deepens over the years.

But the real payoff of aging is perspective.  I recall many years ago when my parents came for a visit – actually to visit their grandchildren.  After the kids went to bed, we discussed the challenges of child rearing – and how much things had changed since we (Mary Sue and I) were kids.   My parents pushed back a little: "It is what it is, and it's not that different."  

The next morning we found the following quote, in my father's handwriting, neatly printed on a 3x5 card taped to the refrigerator door, joining other words of wisdom that helped define the culture of our family life.  It said, "Today's children are tyrants. They talk back to their elders, slobber their food and annoy their teachers" – Socrates (469-399 B.C.).  That's sort of what I mean by "perspective."  

I thought of the value of perspective the other day as I read through a lovely inter-generation story on the Internet.  It went like this.

An elderly lady was checking out at the grocery store.   As the young cashier began to sack the groceries, she suggested to the much older lady that, in the future, she might want to bring reusable grocery bags, adding, "You know, disposable plastic bags are not good for the environment."  

The elderly woman apologized to the young girl, explaining, "We didn't have this 'green thing' back in my days."  
  
The young clerk responded, "I understand. Your generation was less sensitive to the need to save our environment.  But it's never too late to begin." 

The older lady agreed and then went on to explain how much things have changed.
  
"Back in my day, we paid a refundable deposit on every bottle of milk, soda and beer we purchased.  When we returned empty bottles to the store, we got our deposit back and the grocer returned the bottles to the vendor to be washed, sterilized and refilled – reusing the same bottles over and over. They didn't call it 'recycling' back then, but that's sort of what you are talking about today, isn't it? 

She then told the newbie environmentalist that grocers used to bag groceries in brown paper bags that were then "repurposed" for all kinds of things – from garbage bags to book covers for school books. 
"In my day, school books were rented from the school.  So we covered them with brown grocery bags to minimize wear and tear. The brown paper covers also allowed us to personalize our books with drawings, stick'ems and other decorations. I guess you might call that recycling.  Right?"

The older lady also explained how, in the "old days," mothers actually laundered the baby's diapers, that Pampers and other throw-away (plastic) brands were unknown. 
She added, "We dried the diapers along with our clothes on a long line – we called it the 'clothes line" – and it used wind and solar power to dry the clothes.  I think you call that 'alternative energy" today, don't you?  In any case, we didn't have electric dryers hooked to 220 volts and 30 amps.  We just used the wind and sun."
The elderly shopper then explained another kind of recycling.  "When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap that takes 600 years to decompose." 

The early-morning shopper then explained other now-forgotten recycling practices: Drinking from a fountain instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time you were thirsty; refilling writing pens from the ink well on your desk when you ran out of ink instead of pitching the pen and buying a new one; how "primitive" razors used only one blade – not the two or three found in most of today's razors – and when the blade got dull from use, replacing only the blade rather than discarding the whole thing.
As she collected her groceries in plastic bags, the senior shopper added, "You know, in the old days, somehow, things worked out pretty well. I think we just lived the 'green thing' a lot more than we talked about it." 

St. Francis of Assisi once said, "Preach the Gospel every day.  Use words if necessary."  Sometimes, it seems, words are necessary – especially when words are used to provide the perspective and discernment that only come with age.  

Reboot

Reboot!

It’s better to wear out than rust out.”  That is the message of Reboot!  While American culture glamorizes the “Golden Years” of endless leisure and amusement, Phil Burgess rejects retirement, as he makes the case for returning to work in the post-career years, a time he calls later life.

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