Recently, after reading about a breakfast club, my breakfast club envy flared up. It’s funny that someone like me, who relishes her solitudinous wake-up routine, craves the company of others over pancakes and eggs at an hour that, as a night owl, I am rarely awake.
The idea of a lunch club or afternoon tea club lacks the urgency of a breakfast club. In the morning, news is fresh, coffee is fresh, the mind is fresh.
At the retirement home, my parents enjoyed every meal with the same friends. They always had something to talk about, kids to brag or complain about, and neighbors to gossip about, like the 90-year-old engaged couple whose children forbade them to marry.
Everyone there was old. One night you’d be eating canned green beans and arguing about the economy with Marty, a big curmudgeon with a big heart. The next morning his chair would be empty. And while you were absorbing the fact that Marty had expired overnight, you would hear a siren whining from outside and think, “Oops, there goes another one.”
While enjoying the camaraderie, everyone accepted that they too would get their turn to vacate their chair. This gives me hope that I’ll accept my independent living years. In fact, in some ways I’m looking forward to it, especially for the breakfast company.
Unlike the old folks, though, I’m not ready to take it in stride if my pals die. Not long ago a friend asked me to join her crafts group, led by an artist with a terminal illness. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to lose someone right after getting attached.
Breakfast with my ex, when he was my husband, is one of the things I missed most about being divorced from him. Few things delight the way looking up from The Times did to hear him read from an article about, say, cavorting around Papua New Guinea on a motor scooter.
Friends of mine found enormous comfort after their daughter died by starting their day with other retired friends over coffee, toast, and eggs. It’s cheesy to say, but people need people and I would like mine with a bagel and cream cheese.
My friend Pam’s father had a breakfast club and once a week the men would go to the movies after morning arguments about politics, the stock market, sports, and women. At the afternoon hour the theater was so quiet that each could have is own aisle seat. I love that image of the Florida gang in the dark watching George Clooney: twelve old men in two straight lines, like the little girls in Madeline. I want to sit in a in a column of comrades like that.
Whenever I go to China, where I am now, my retirees-in-the-park envy flares up. When I asked a retired Chinese friend what she does all day, she replied, “Wanr,” which is Beijingspeak for play and means hang out. She hangs out in the park with her friends. Just about every park, large and small, provides an inviting “playground” for senior citizens.
Rows of ping pong tables are always in use. At small cement blocks lao touzi, or old men play Chinese checkers amid rings of onlookers three-deep. Meanwhile, lao tai tai, or old women sit on benches chattering. Some enjoy colorful exercise contraptions: you can stand on one to swing front to back, on another, side to side. Some have bars that stick out for leaning against to massage your back. All the while you can depend on the same folks you schmooze with every day to show up. Ahh, lovely.
Maybe if the U.S. provided more recreation like this for our elderly, that combines exercise with the kind of communal experience I crave, we would all be happier and healthier as we age, and we could reduce health-care costs.
And check out the Sardinians, who have strong family ties, walk a lot, and laugh with friends. The word, ‘sardonic,’ or wry sense of humor, originates in Sardinia, where you find nearly 10 times the number of centenarians per 1000 people than you do in America.
Make me totally envious and tell me how you find community.
I am excited to share with you new of my upcoming memoir, Confessions of a Worrywart: Husbands, Lovers, Mothers, and Others. I hope you will sign up for updates.
See some of my recent and favorite posts on NBC’s Life Goes Strong: