During a “town meeting” two weeks ago at BayWoods, the wonderful waterfront retirement community in Annapolis that has been our home the past 11 months, I was struck by two things:
The candid and capable presentation by the corporate staff about matters related to current and future operations—and the engaged participation by senior citizens whose best years are in the past. Age does not negate your instincts and intelligence, though both may become a bit dulled by a lengthy life journey.
As if we were living in a small town, we are immersed in the financial health and stability of a place that is our home. We cannot be oblivious to the management of our congregant living environment.
We all must pitch in to make our community better, as people do so selflessly in towns and villages throughout the Shore. Only normal community-building. Lack of concern is perilous.
I have written before about my wife’s and my life in a community where you hear no sounds of children playing and screaming and befriend neighbors of all ages. When declining health affected a neighbor back home, that person often spent his or her remaining years in an assisted living facility. We often lost track, sadly so.
Here at BayWoods, the same thing happens. Friends and neighbors often living on your hallway require care offered in assisted living or acute care provided in the BayWoods complex. They no longer can enjoy independent living.
Surrounded by neighbors and friends using stylish walkers and motorized wheelchairs, I naturally wonder if my cane will give way to more extensive ambulatory assistance in the near future. I think about life’s passages and wonder when I will confront rough, unremitting waves.
Beyond their physical infirmities, these people are determined to live with zest, purpose and humor. Why should they not apply their same energy, though limited, and their abundant wisdom gathered during their work and family lives to matters important to their place of residence and well-being?
And they do, rather impressively.
They also participate enthusiastically in cultural and athletic activities in Annapolis. Pro-Naval Academy sentiment runs extraordinarily strong at BayWoods. West Pointers are tough to find. “Go Army” utterances face good-natured sneers. I like to stir the pot at times.
As I moved through my career and personal life, I often thought that success was related to the survival of the fittest, those who could navigate the shoals of life and emerge stronger and more capable, though perhaps bruised and scarred along the way. I gave little or no attention to health, though felled by a heart attack at the age of 48.
I felt fortunate to have endured the painful cardiac episode and other tragedies. I felt satisfied that I could give up drinking, cold turkey—and enjoy life without alcohol, a constant companion since college. I could cope with my best college friend’s death at the early age of 65 and then decide I would retire in homage to his too-soon death.
I had the ability to learn and apply hard, searing lessons and remain optimistic amid the throes of all too frequent challenges, personally and professionally.
Now, as I observe BayWoods residents and so many others dealing with advanced age, I just wonder if it is plain luck or genetics or good eating and exercise habits (not necessarily applicable to me) that deter the sometimes-debilitating effects of aging. I believe that a combination comes into play in unpredictable ways.
A go-with-the-flow attitude might be the best antidote. Over-achievers find it difficult, if not impossible to adopt a carefree mindset. Kudos to those who can. I am not a member of the laissez faire group.
Just last week, a neighbor died at age 92. He led the St. John’s Seminar at BayWoods. He had been a trade group executive during his career. He had been a runner till injured by a fall. He loved to talk about literary classics. In fact, he just liked to gab, citing passages that he assumed I knew.
I have a front-row seat on aging, including my own. Optimism and resilience are major factors in deterring disabling effects, though my diagnosis is far from scientific, and very arguable, I suspect.
Onward, cheerfully and hopefully.
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.