A retired CIA analyst who for 12 years prepared the President’s Daily Briefing for four presidents.
A retired Washington, DC architect who helped design the Vietnam War and Korean War memorials in our nation’s capital.
A retired ophthalmologist who during his 22 years of service as a U.S. Navy doctor at Bethesda Naval Hospital treated presidents with eye (not I) problems.
These three people, as well as a former female astronaut and two women who ran a bed and breakfast in the Poconos after careers as a professor of anatomy and a psychologist, are our new neighbors at the BayWoods continuing care retirement community in Annapolis.
After two months adapting to a new life in a new setting, we have caught some glimpses behind their masks of highly accomplished and friendly residents. We are meeting extraordinary people growing older together.
They generally are in their mid-to-late 80s. Many move around with walkers. Many do not.
They are in their final years of life. They left their spacious homes and friends to live in a community where youthfulness and zest for life are hidden behind slower-moving bodies and faces creased and riven by age and experience.
They have adapted to communal living, abiding by rules created by others. While they have stepped aside from living in neighborhoods that comprise old and young, —and constant upkeep of their homes—they are determined to participate in numerous activities. Of course, many outlets at BayWoods for congregating have shut down due to Covid restrictions.
I think about a touching movie entitled the “Quartet,” which portrays the aging but still talented former musicians who are living in a lovely retirement home in England. Among these acclaimed musical artists is a world-renown opera singer and diva (portrayed by Maggie Smith), who demands attention and adulation—but initially refuses to perform in an opera to raise essential money for the refuge, because her considerable skills have diminished.
Maggie Smith’s character relents, but not without angry drama. She puts aside her ego and joins the riveting performance of “The Rigoletto.” It’s a rousing success.
BayWoods is blessed with men and women battling the corrosive effects of aging with the same resoluteness they exhibited in their younger years. While their ambition and drive have mellowed, their past achievements, hidden by humility and physical infirmities, are easily discoverable by listening.
I continue to gain emotional comfort and contentment in my new surroundings. Each day is better than the previous one. My wife is by my side. So is my desire to age gracefully and productively.
I have written previously about the wrenching decision to leave Easton and Talbot County and take on an unfamiliar passage across the aging divide. The journey poses constantly difficult but exciting ebbs and flows.
Our neighbor celebrated his 93rd birthday on Dec. 31. I spent 30 minutes with him as he celebrated his birthday alone. His two daughters, both living in the south, could not visit him due to Covid. His constant companion is loneliness; his wife died eight years ago. Her portrait has a prime spot in his apartment.
I now have a front-row seat watching how people in old bodies have youthful outlooks. They will not simply observe and second-guess. As in “Quartet,” they will continue to strive to hit the high notes of life.
Valuable life lesson.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.