A few weeks ago, an 85-year old man driving an Oldsmobile rocketed past a police officer doing 161 in a 100 km/hr zone. He later told the officer he was going to the bank and then shopping. He was charged under the Ontario street-racing law — the oldest person to earn the honour.
Good for him. Based on Stats Canada mortality rates in 2002, he’s already exceeded the 82.2-year average life span for men who make it to 65. If he were a woman, he’d have an average of .6 of a year still to live, so male or female, he’s wise, statistically speaking, to squeeze everything he can out of life.
Like the two seniors in the current movie The Bucket List, in which Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman set out to finally do all the things they’ve always wanted to do, our 85-year old dragster is putting the pedal to the metal in more ways than one. And he’s got company in the real world. I recently heard of a 78-year old woman, a former Miss Canada, who began fencing at the age of 74, and also fits dragonboat racing into her schedule when she isn’t travelling the world.
My high school writing class students recently had a brush with that sort of just-do-it spirit. On the way to Come Share, a senior’s day drop-in facility, the students, ranging in age from 14-18, were uncharacteristically silent. After two weeks of preparation, they were ready to interview seniors face-to-face and write four-page biographies of the people they interviewed; they were prepared to contribute to Come Share’s Extraordinary Chronicles of Ordinary Lives Biography Project. They’d practiced interviewing one another and pretending they were seniors, they’d practiced eye contact and nodding their heads in encouragement. They’d practiced listening and asking probing questions. But now that it was time to meet the seniors, they were unsure of whom to expect. After all, stereotypical seniors ride around in little scooters with flags on the back and snap at teenagers, right? Or they sit around in malls and watched the world pass them by. How could young and old, with a 60-year gulf separating their life experiences, find common ground?
Then the seniors talked and the students listened, and took notes as quickly as they could. They wrote about seniors who had loved or hated math and English classes, fought with their siblings, and lived through World War Two. They documented recent hobbies, including making bracelets, dancing, lawn bowling, doing aerobics, heading off on road trips to places like Arizona, and frequenting the horse track.
They recorded the words of Burc, who reminisced about going to the beach and enjoying the sun with his wife: “You should do that every once in a while; just lay back and forget the rest of the world.” And Betty, one of the seniors, who said, “If you don’t like what you’re doing, don’t do it. Do what makes you happy.” And 90-year old Chris, who encouraged, “Go for your dreams, kids; if you aspire for something, just go for it!”
So Monday I went to my first belly-dancing lesson. I’ve been meaning to try that for years. And the teacher is a senior. Imagine that.