For some, age is no obstacle

Elise T. Chisolm XHC 5/8 B

February 04, 1992|By Elise T. Chisolm

IF YOU ARE 60 hoping to reach 80, take joy in what I have found: People who reach 80-plus in comparatively good health can have a great time.

When people hit 80 they seem to get a second lease on life, an upbeat attitude that 65-year-olds feign but don't always have.

I think some 60-year-olds are still coping with the fact they are ''seniors'' -- called by non-advocates the ''gray squad'' -- trying to adjust to the tag ''older.'' Although it is finally being recognized that the 65-year-old dividing line distinguishing senior citizens is arbitrary and absurd.

At 80 there seems to be a ''let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may'' feeling.

In a society where ageism still exists, it's refreshing to see octogenarians with a zest for living.

My theory is simple: When you approach your ninth decade, you say, ''What the heck. I didn't die, so this is my last chance to do what I want -- travel, study or pursue a favorite hobby. I've lived this long and I will make up for some of that lost time. Why worry over money, health and the anguish of aging?''

Gone are some of the negative expectations. I think turning 80 must be like getting to the top of the highest mountain. When you look over, you are triumphant. You've made it.

OK. I am not yet 80, but I have noticed this among my 80- to 90-year-old friends.

A couple in their 80s travel, party on a small scale and look forward to every day. They have hobbies and interests -- they don't sit still.

I always feel privileged to be with them. They laugh a lot, they are interesting and their love and respect for one another comes shining through. He had a heart attack once, but due to excellent care and, I suspect, positive thinking, he got better.

They aren't rich financially, only in spirit.

Then there's my friend Dora Coard, 87, who has in the past five years knit 5,551 -- that was last week's count -- baby caps for infants. The caps go to several hospitals, and the American Association of Retired Persons furnishes the wool.

''I am a constant knitter,'' she says, ''and it is a challenge to see how many I can knit. I also teach bridge. My days are very full.''

Dora had her gall bladder removed a few years ago and had subsequently suffered from constant backaches. And two years ago she had a series of small strokes.

She told me recently, ''I was so mad, I had about five parties lined up. But do you know, since the strokes I have never felt better, and my back pain has gone too.''

Dora enjoys her grandchildren and tells me her secret to a long life: "It's a sense of humor. You have to laugh . . . life can begin at 80.''

Wilk Peters is a perfect example.

He's 91 and says when you reach that age you ''come to grips with death. I simply don't worry anymore about dying," he says.

Wilk, a retired educator, has a degree in library science from Hampton College in Virginia and a master's from Columbia. He has taught library science at Morgan State University. has traveled extensively and finally retired in 1966.

But not really. The teacher still takes courses. He has studied in foreign countries and is currently studying French.

''I still drive my 1955 Chevy," he says, "but it is getting a little older."

Wilk had just come in from raking leaves when we talked. He walks six blocks a day.

He exemplifies my theory.

Maybe it's like an 86-year-old woman said to me yesterday in the checkout line: ''Sure, I hate the snow, but I don't complain. After all, I could be somewhere else where you can't see it and feel it.'' And she winked.

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