DR. BILL CUMMINGS: Old age

June 1, 2014 

I heard on the radio today that old age starts at 80. I guess that means me. Funny, I don’t feel old. Oh, I’ve got bad knees and arthritic fingers and flabby muscles, but my mind is just as sharp -- maybe sharper -- than it was when I was 50. And that’s a fact.

And I’ve got memories; wonderful memories. My memories go back to the days before TV and cellphones and the Internet; to the days when we crowded around the radio in our living room to listen to the news about Emperor Hirohito and Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, and hoped that our president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, would save us from those murderous people. Even in the Great Depression, we had high hopes.

But would you like to know the best thing about old age? It’s the little children. As I write these words, our grandson, Michael and his girl friend, Becca, tell us that they’re going to bring over some friends of theirs with their little children. The children will giggle and laugh uncontrollably when they’re tickled. They’ll scream when they’re splashed in the pool. They’ll shout when they see us and sleep when they’re tired. Little children are without guile. Little children say it like it is, ready or not. But I think it takes old age to appreciate them.

You see, parents must discipline their kids. Parents must quiet them and teach them and hold them accountable, and I agree with all that, otherwise they’ll grow up spoiled and feeling entitled. But what a joy it is for the “old folks” to sit around and watch without any need for discipline, without the responsibility of parenthood, with just the joy of the moment -- because the moment contains more transparency than most adults can possibly witness on a daily basis.

Transparency is hard to find in today’s business, political and religious environments. Employees find it difficult to tell the boss the truth and so they spin it. Politicians want to get re-elected so they tell us whatever we want to hear. Church leaders, both Catholic and Protestant, are so afraid of losing members they water down the truly radical Christian message to a comfortable Sunday picnic. There is very little transparency any more, except with children.

Little children are inherently transparent. When the “emperor has no clothes” and he’s parading around the backyard of our lives, it’s a little child who will ask: “Mommy, why’s that man naked?” It takes a little child to say: “Daddy, you’ve got snot hanging out of your nose.” Or “Mommy, why is Aunt Helen here, you said you’d never allow her in our house again?” Transparency is not always comfortable, but it’s always true and it takes little children to remind us that the truth shall make us free -- eventually.

Maurice Chevalier sang; “Thank God for little girls.” I sing: “Thank God for little children, both the boys and the girls, who are fearless and open and full of wonder and curiosity and love.” Old age makes us mellow, they say. If “mellow” means the ability to grace our declining days with the sights and sounds of little children, and to fill our hearts with their laughter and honesty -- then each day is a wonderful sunrise. Victor Hugo once wrote: “When grace is joined with wrinkles, it is adorable. There is an unspeakable dawn in happy old age.”

He was right.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.

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