I belong to a bowling league where there are thirty-four lanes of seniors. There’s a lot of white hair and bald heads, some stoop shoulders, stiff necks and arthritic fingers, and I suppose your average number of knee and hip replacements. There are folks undergoing chemo and recovering from strokes. There are people missing because they are not quite finished with their physical therapy following a fall or a surgery. But they’ll be back.
If you seek to be encouraged about living life in the later years, this is the place. Did I mention the smiles, jokes, laughter, back-slaps, high-fives and hoorahs? Did I mention the scores–185, 230, 300? Not all, of course, but a great many. At 89, Peggy is still a 110 bowler, except now she uses a much lighter-weight ball that she gently shoves down the lane from the foul line so slowly that you can almost read the writing on it as it turns along. When she gets a strike, it is one pin at a time and takes about half a minute. The cheers are wild.
Bert is another matter. Bert is blind. I don’t mean drivers-license blind. I mean he has no sight. One of his teammates guides him up to the lane. Once there, Bert can identify his ball by feel, and has painstakingly calculated where to position himself. If he leaves a pin (notice I said “if”), his teammate tells him which one and he re-positions himself accordingly. Can you imagine a blind person picking up the ten pin? Really? I mean really?? Bert is a 200 bowler. He went blind eight years ago from diabetes. At 83, it hasn’t even slowed him down.
Not everyone here has an infirmity. The number of vibrant sixty and seventy-year-old’s is countless. Many of us bowl in several leagues and routinely enter tournaments that sometime take us to other parts of the country. But what I like about this great mix of elders is that no one (or at least very few) is impatient or snitty. We all get it. We get that giving in is giving up. We get that being out there, active and engaged, is the thing, and that a cheerful disposition is the secret sauce.
And that may not even be the best part because when you learn where these people have been and what they’ve done, what they’ve experienced, achieved and overcome (Peggy was a wartime nurse and later on a pilot), you get a kind of time-capsule view of what amounts to a small but precious piece of American history.