Making of a Curmudgeon


We’re continually instructed about how to behave to friends who are distressed, or lonely, or depressed, or ill. Okay, I’ll listen and receive your complaint about life and fate with an open heart, and sympathetic words, and an invitation to lunch, and we’ll plan a trip to the movies, museum, or swap meet.

. But could you shut up about yourself once in a while? Why, as the golden years turn to gray, must you be ego-yapping all the time? We are elders of the tribe now. Our job is to support others, work behind the scenes to fix the planet, society, our neighborhood. We are meant now to be inconspicuous caregivers, imparting wisdom and life skills --and time and money if we have them--to others. It’s not about us anymore, if it ever really was.

I have a lifelong friend who turns any e-mail or information I send him into something about himself. He used to pivot somewhat discretely toward his own ego by picking up on a phrase or two, let’s say about global warming, and spin a yarn about his own early morning runs without oil-based fossil-fuels. But everything he says now is a direct boast about his being on top of every issue facing the world and outperforming everybody else in fixing things. He would never understand that his competitive frame of mind is precisely what gets us into the social jams where ego-driven idiots see themselves at the center of the cosmos. You can’t fix the planet if you yourself are a pathetic wreck, an old fossil in effect.

Another friend who comes to lunch and talks about himself for about two hours. Yes he’s a late bloomer with admirable if delayed successes and his modicum of recent misfortune. But it’s time to get out of yourself, I want to tell him. Maybe ask me how I’m feeling—about being bored to death by you.

Another friend facebooks me with banal messages of hope and courage, illustrated with some of the sappiest pictures this side of Thomas Kincade. I won’t say, “Your cheery, borrowed, canned thoughts and images of phony uplift are what depress me.” I just leave my Facebook account dormant.

Another friend who recently lost his wife to a long-term illness continues to relate his new sexual escapades to me even as he reminds me of the painful loss of his wife’s dedicated life. I want to say, “Get over your old goat sexual addiction. Shouldn’t you be glad when your erotic ardor cools a bit so you can look around to see who you now are?” But I don’t say it.

We have a couple whose company we enjoy, and who keeps accepting our dinner invitations. But his wife keeps canceling at the last minute, so he shows up solo. We suspect she has a drinking problem. After another husband-only evening, he proceeds to explain that the drugs she takes for whatever afflicts are only alleviated by alcohol.

Here’s the curmudgeon part. I spoke up. I said, “Your wife’s alcoholic, and she’s drunk; that’s why she doesn’t show up.” He hasn’t spoken to me since.

But isn’t it time, as we move into our seventies, to level with each other? I’m not happy about confronting old friends about their late life narcissism, deflections from reality, or whinings. We lose old friends that way, and a part of a past we shared.

It’s time to sift the chaff for the remaining grain and, moreover, to look for new friends, young and old, but mainly those who have managed the transition to elderhood without being leashed to their yelping, caged egos.

And so I speak up, confront. It’s bad manners, I know, but I’m pruning dead wood for new growth from my remaining tree of life, curmudgeon-style. And it is afterall about the time remaining—time I no longer have for your so marvelous self. Even though for you that shortened time is what's driving you batty.


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