Always Be the Oldest One in the Room

Yesterday morning I was reading an article, titled Patagonia’s Philosopher-King, about Yvon Chouinard, one of the co-founders of Patagonia, the outdoor-apparel company. In the article, Chouinard (a character in the true sense of the word) was quoted as saying, “Tell you the secret to a good life: always be the oldest one in the room.”

He nailed that, I thought.

It’s not that I don’t like older people. I do. In fact, I have some very close friends and family who are longer in the tooth than I. But I get Chouinard’s point.

If you want to stay young, both in body and spirit, hang with younger folk. And don’t let the old geezers pull you down.

Of course, this isn’t directly pertinent to your situation, Vera. When you’re 14 months old, it’s hard to be the oldest person in the room. But your day will come.

When that day comes, be mindful that some (certainly not all) older people are just hanging around waiting to die. Some don’t do much of anything except watch TV, gossip and make trouble. Some remind me of Dean Smith’s basketball teams at the University of North Carolina.

Smith originated the four-corners offense, although I use that term lightly because it really wasn’t an offense. It was a stall tactic. Basically, it was a way to hold the ball and run out the clock. From a spectator’s perspective, it was boring. It’s no less boring when people employ the same tactic in their lives.

Now, I’m not suggesting that all seniors are slugs. Far from it.

To this day I recall a sunny day in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, when I was a special agent for the Defense Department around 1979. I don’t recall whom or what I was investigating, but I do vividly recall who came to the door after I knocked: a spry 96-year-old woman holding a hammer. It seems I had interrupted her while she was doing some repair work around the house. I remember thinking that’s what I wanted to be like when I was her age.

Not everyone is so lucky, of course. Disease or accident claims the health or lives of many of us well before 96, through no fault of our own. And most of us slow down a little as the body wears out. But this post isn’t about circumstances that are thrust upon us; it’s about the choices we make.

I don’t mean to suggest my way is the only or best way. But I’m your granddad, so it’s my way that I’m going to share with you today.

Here’s how I try to be the oldest person in the “room”:

  • I teach college students, where I’m always the oldest person in the classroom.
  • I hike tall mountains with your grandmother, and we walk a lot.
  • I have dinner on a regular basis with our younger neighbors (not because they’re younger, but because we really like them, although I suppose their youth is a plus!). (I hope they don’t dump us because we’re older.)
  • I ride my bike to Boulder and back and up Colorado hills and mountains.
  • I hang around you (Vera) and your parents. (You will help keep me young, won’t you?)
  • I try to avoid retirees who apparently thought Dean Smith’s offense was a good idea.
  • I try to avoid activities that diminish me (what I call life-depleting activities) or make me irritable, such as meetings that are likely to accomplish nothing of consequence (which means, of course, I avoid nearly all meetings at the college).

This is my strategy. You may find a better one.

That said, I do think you should seriously consider heeding Mr. Chouinard’s advice: always be the oldest one in the room. But note: he didn’t say it was the secret to a long life; he said it was the secret to a good life.

P.S. I highly recommend reading the entire article about Mr. Chouinard in The New Yorker (link provided above).

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