Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Depending on Your View

Last week I was walking through a city near where I live---strolling along, enjoying the beginning of Fall, fending off the normal amount of requests for money. I had taken the afternoon off to wander around and visit some used bookstores.

Gradually it dawned on me that there was something different about the requests for money. For one, there were a lot more people sitting with signs and cups. For another, there was a lot less of the usual banter and funny signs (lwill work for beer). But the stunner was the number of elderly men and women sitting on the sidewalk with cups and signs. These were men and women in their sixties (my age) and seventies. What made them look elderly?

Ironically the book I had with me to read on the train was A Long Bright Future, An Action Plan for a Lifetime of Happiness, Health, and Financial Security by Laura L. Carstensen, PhD. Dr. Carstensen is the founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. She encourages the reader to “envision the possibilities of a longer life; design your future with smart choices you make today; diversity your social, civic, and leisure pursuits; and, invest in yourself, your family and your community.

The contrast could not have been more ironic, more bitter. How many of these people had been proactive?---envisioning, designing, diversifying, investing---only to find that events over which they had no control (like an economic meltdown or critical illness) had made a shambles of their plans for a long, bright future.

Dr. Carstensen makes some very good points from her 50,000 foot view. But what about the person on the ground whose best-laid plans have blown up in his/her face?

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