Read this if you’re old…

…or if somebody you know is old, and could stand to hear it from someone to whom they’ll actually listen.

Old people, you are becoming children all over again. This is merely a reflection, based on my observations of both children and old people. Several similar behaviors are evident, including an unwillingness to listen to reason and an extremely narrow and self-centered worldview. (Let’s not discuss the whole “diaper” component…) Children are wired to behave this way as a means of gradually understanding the world around them, in order to assimilate new information without suffering from sensory overload. They just don’t get that they are a piece of the whole, rather than its core.

Many elderly, however, behave this way (I think) out of a sense of fear — fear of becoming obsolete or of being trapped in a world that is, for many, no longer familiar. Neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia no doubt play a large part in this type of response to the world, but by and large it’s a function of the narrowing of the known world. At a certain age the world stops expanding and, as one confronts the inevitability of death, contracts on itself until you, the elderly, are comfortably lodged in a bubble of beliefs and notions that remains impervious to outside influence — even when those notions are potentially more harmful to you than letting the world in could ever be.

The loss of independence is also a primary trigger of the fear response. Even if you have no idea where you are or have forgotten where you are supposed to be going, the thought of losing the fantasy of control is an unacceptable, painful suggestion that the world — your world — no longer needs your cooperation to function.

Lest all this pseudo-psychobabble seem foreign or ridiculous, let me move to the point of this little rant: Last month, I went to my cousin’s graduation party. Also invited was my grandmother from the other side of the family, she of the menorah debacle, because she attends my cousin’s church (and, of course, because she’s my family). I arrived to see my grandmother attempting to parallel park, in a spot that had more than enough room for her to get in and out. She couldn’t do it, though, so my mom jumped out of my car to go help her. There were other examples of her aging not so well throughout the party, but the kicker came when it was time for her to leave…

Small note: when my mom parked Grandma’s car, she put it directly in front of the house and left more than enough room on either end of the car for her to easily just cut the wheel and maneuver it out without constant adjustment. Apparently, Grandma slammed on the gas to reverse, then slammed on the brakes to avoid the car behind her by less than an inch. (Reminds me of driving school, really…) She then somehow managed to get out of the spot and back to her house, which I only know because we went over there to visit her. After she left, my mom’s cousin came over to us and commiserated: “She drives like that all the time at church…please tell [my father] to take her keys.”

So we told him. And he sighed and said that he knew it was coming. And he actually had the conversation with her, which was a little surprising to me…but then, as he told us, he decided not to demand that she give them up because “they’re a symbol of her independence.”

And there, dear old people, is where you really start to piss me off.

I get that you don’t want to feel like you’re sucking the lives out of the people around you with your needs and demands. I understand that it’s a point of pride for you to be able to drive around without a chauffeur, just as it is for the sixteen-year-old who is holding their very first license after years of waiting. However, if you are such a danger to the people around you that it’s safer for me to walk around barefoot in dark clothing in the worst parts of Cleveland at 3 am on a Saturday than it is for you to get behind the wheel of a car, then it’s time to do the wise adult thing and agree to hand over the keys. When your argument for continuing to drive is that your mother didn’t give it up until a judge ordered her to, you’ve already proven my point.

So please, please, take a step outside your bubble and think of the others whose lives you are putting at risk out of sheer stubbornness. It could be someone’s grandchild that you hit, or you could be the one to not make it — and while we all accept that we will lose our grandparents, that’s not the way we’d choose for you to go. Those in the middle generation, all of our parents who are now caring for their parents, take heed of this and be willing to take that stand. You’ll be doing the world a favor.

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