Today in his Salon column, Garrison Keillor who is 65 or 66 implies that indeed John McCain is too old. In the gentlest way. And by wondering, if indirectly, why he would want to be president in the latter part of his life when he could be enjoying it and the gifts it brings instead.
At a hair's breath from 65 myself, I wonder the same thing. It's not that 65 or 71 or 72 are necessarily at death's door, and it's not that it's what they now call very old or frail elderly or whatever. And it's not that you can't have a good, hefty hunk of time left: look at John McCain's mother, for crying out loud, or Garrison Keillor's for that matter.
But I start to remember that in other times and other places, different ages had different purposes. It seems that if we keep our minds open and alert, wisdom may accrue as we get older, and that things like being a judge elder statesman, or an ambassador, or a special sort of wise man like Jimmy Carter or Nelson Mandela would be in order for people who still want to be prominent in the world. Other people, like Keillor, may want to be repositories of pleasure in simple things that they can then share. Or maybe you want to be both.
Things you can do if you're lucky enough not to have to earn a living full-time: Grandmother or grandfather or favorite aunt are good things;safe haven or philanthropist or writer or artist or someone nice to be around because you don't have to be so worried and responsible anymore; you don't have to impress bosses or neighbors anymore. Or be an idea person, maybe, or a trusted confidante. Or negotiator or arbitrator or conciliator. Or coach or tutor. Or someone who just reads to kids. Or a gardener who shares her produce. Or a volunteer at something else that really matters to you. Or go back to a subject you love or take up a subject you were always curious about now with the freedom not to have to make a career out of it. Or do something you love on a small scale because you can. Or be an experimenter. Or a dreamer. Or invent something. Or take care of animals. Or read books: any books you want. You can download them and adjust the type size to be as big as you need it to be. I met a woman who's been a lawyer and prominent in politics once. She'd gone through her money and found herself in a senior citizens' apartment. She didn't care. She walked to the thrift store down the street and around the corner every few days and checked out their used mystery collection, brought them home and read them, one after another. She enjoyed the social life around her, too, but mostly she enjoyed reading. She had a daughter who'd become a psychiatrist. "What a waste," she said. "She could have done something useful with her mind."
So many opportunities: why would you want to waste your later years thrashing about in the dirt of a dirty campaign and then find yourself trying to handle a mess which you aren't really capable of handling? Being president these days is not an old man's job. Old people who are flexible and healthy think deeply rather than fast. Their reflexes and short term memory aren't what they used to be. They can be extremely wise and knowledgeable and proficient, but they aren't such quick thinkers anymore. A president has to think fast and have a broad mental reach and has to be familiar with stuff that old people generally aren't familiar with and hopefully think well enough to know what is good advice and what isn't and which old people to consult about what. Mind you, there are lots of grouchy and rigid and intolerant and impatient old people, mostly who are the aging version of what they were when they were grouchy and rigid and intolerant and impatient young people. I think it just shows more when you're old.
Garrison Keillor is a gift to humankind, by the way. A quiet and funny and thoughtful and gently, slyly provocative and slightly mad one. I remember listening to him on morning radio I would guess thirty five years ago when we lived in Minneapolis. He introduced his strange cast of characters and places and sponsors that have since become classics. When I was a kid, I listened to Bob and Ray, and Garrison Keillor's characters merge a bit with theirs, but I know he had Jack's Auto Repair and Bertha's Kitty Boutique and powdermilk biscuits, or whatever, but in my dotage, I can't remember the name of the town where all the children were above average.
Once after he'd become famous (at least in the Twin Cities) with his Saturday evening show, we went to see it live. We brought our daughter, then I think three or four. She got squirmy so I took her out of the auditorium. While we were quieting down, Keillor appeared and talked to us both about wiggly kids. Maybe something else, too. I don't remember. When I see his picture today, I say, my goodness, he looks exactly the same.
It's worth subscribing online to Salon or just googling him for his columns.
Update: How could I forget? Lake Wobegon.