By Hannah Reich Berman
When we’re young, we sometimes hear older people say, “It’s too bad that youth is wasted on the young!” Older folks often make the claim that as they age they pretty much get to say and do as they please. As a younger person, I didn’t quite understand either of those concepts. But, having arrived at (and passed) seventy years of age, I understand it now. Seventy seems to be a “magic age” when one feels secure and empowered with a sense of freedom.
While age doesn’t give one a license to be rude or disrespectful, and it doesn’t give one permission to hurt others, it does allow one to speak one’s mind without worry about what others might think. This might be a subconscious assessment on the part of a septuagenarian or it might be a conscious one. Either way, it’s great! We won’t be harshly criticized or argued with and we won’t be abandoned, or even avoided, if we choose to express an unpopular opinion. And if we are criticized, or argued with, we don’t care. With a few exceptions—there are always exceptions—most of us don’t have that same sense of security when we’re younger. It’s a journey, and it takes time to get there.
Of course, others may roll their eyes and do the criticizing behind our backs because of some opinion we express. But the good news is that we don’t care about that either! That is the meaning of true freedom. For all I know, even my children may do it. They may tell one another that I said this or did that (something they disagree with) but that it’s because of my “age.” And here too, once again, I don’t care. Aging isn’t a free pass to do the wrong thing, but it does come with some latitude. If only I had gotten here sooner. However, some things are worth waiting for.
My good friend Dr. Phil says it best when he says, “No matter how flat a pancake is, it has two sides!” And that is true here as well. On one hand (the first side of the pancake), age often brings with it a lack of patience and tolerance. On the other hand (that of course would be side two), it also brings with it more patience and tolerance. We have zero tolerance for evil and for disrespect, but we have an abundance of patience and tolerance for those who are inexperienced and who might need our help. We think more and, within reason, we do as we please. (Just for the record, and to play it safe, I hope nobody asks Dr. Phil about me, because he doesn’t know that he’s my good friend. But, without apology, that is how I think of him.)
I could offer myriad examples, but this one comes to mind: I love to socialize. I admit to being a talker as well as a listener. I like to participate in the exchange of ideas. And the key words here are to participate. I am not great at sitting and listening to others chat. That only works for me if I go to a movie or a play. It’s also fine when I watch television or go to a lecture. But at other times, just listening doesn’t work for me.
Six months ago, I went out to dinner with friends. Normally we are four close friends, but on this occasion a fifth gal was invited to join us. That fifth person is someone I am very fond of. She’s a delightfully friendly and funny gal with much to offer. But for me, the evening was a total bust. Risa and Anat, who were seated the furthest from me, were engrossed in conversation; and Esther and Penina, who happened to be seated on either side of me, were in the process of getting better acquainted. They were playing Jewish Geography and asking personal questions of each other. And I, Hannah, the ultimate schmoozer, sat there bored out of my skull!
I felt as if I were watching a tennis match as my head swiveled from left to right and then back again. As I knew both Penina and Esther well, none of the information they were exchanging was news to me. And neither of them seemed to notice that I was being excluded. The only ones who were happy about the situation must have been my vocal cords. That evening they got a well-deserved vacation because, aside from “hello” when we met, “so long” when we parted, and the words I spoke when giving my order to the waiter, I don’t think I uttered a word all evening.
That was half a year ago, and recently I once again got caught in the same web. My cousin said she was coming out to visit me and, knowing that she and my friend Batya like each other a lot but rarely got to see one another, I had the bright idea of giving them both a treat: I called and invited Batya to join us for lunch. She did. And it was the same scenario. Everything my cousin told my friend, I already knew. And everything my friend told my cousin was also something I already knew. Once again I was relegated to that netherworld of silence. Since my husband passed away, I live alone, so I have enough silence in my life. When I get out, I want to hear and be heard.
Luckily I had a window seat at the restaurant, so I entertained myself by watching people walk by. Occasionally I glanced around to see if anyone I knew had walked into the restaurant. That would have given me an excuse to get up and walk over to another table to say hello and to have a brief chat. I would have kept it brief, because when people go out to lunch one does not intrude. There are some who don’t know this, but that is a definite no-no.
Unfortunately, nobody that I knew came in, so I was stuck in my seat and had to endure two boring hours. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but as we were leaving, my predominant thought was “Hmm, there went two hours of my life that I can never get back!” Then I had another thought, which was that from now on, I am staying away from uneven groups. I will go out with one other person or three others, but for me there will be no more taking a chance of being the odd man out.
This is where the joy of aging comes in. As all of the aforementioned people read this column, they are likely to recognize the scenario and realize that I am referring to them. Then again, maybe they won’t. People often don’t recognize themselves. But either way, I don’t care. I offer no apologies for my feelings, and if I am asked my answer will be “Yessiree, you are correct. It was when I was with you that I was bored to death!” Aging has a plus side, because it means speaking one’s mind. That’s just the way it is. v
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-902-3733.