With grace, or without

Earlier this week, the opening sentence in a recent New York Times article caught my eye:

“Looking for ways to grow old gracefully?”

Well, yes, I thought, I am. I read on. The piece was a compilation of excerpts from articles about ageing that had been previously published in the newspaper, and consisted mostly of a list of suggestions. I’m fond of lists, so I dug right in.

Not surprisingly, eating well, preferably by following a Mediterranean diet, and exercising were high on the list. I ticked both off, since I had eaten a healthy frittata and salad for dinner the night before and, early that morning, had walked with a friend, getting in 5,041 (but who’s counting?) steps, just shy of the recommended 7,000.

Mind you, while my dinner had been healthy, I had eaten leftover takeout Chinese food for lunch earlier that day, and my hour-long walk was notable mostly because it was the only physical activity I had engaged in, other than walking up and down the stairs in my house, for at least three months.

Making peace with myself

Still, I tried to take a positive stance, and continued down the list.  Socializing, apparently, helps us age gracefully. That is cruel news, coming as it does in the midst of the sixth wave of a virus that has kept us mostly isolated for more than two years. No check mark there, but I’m hoping the summer will take us past this wave so we can begin to return to a pre-pandemic approach to socialization.

The list encouraged me to recognize my issues and adapt accordingly, which the author went on to explain meant accepting those things I no longer need to do and identifying those I am unwilling to give up.

That’s challenging. What about the things I would like to give up but still have to do, like earning a living or doing the dishes? And what about the things I don’t want to give up but no longer have the physical capacity to do, like getting down on my knees to look for something under the couch or reading the small print on a food label when I have left my reading glasses at home?

By now, I had imbued THE LIST with capital letter significance, and I was starting to think that ageing with grace might not be for me, after all.

Changes in attitudes . . .

Fortunately, I stumbled across a New Yorker article that offered me an idea for a very different approach to my golden years: Latitude Margaritaville, “an active-living community for Jimmy Buffett enthusiasts” in Daytona Beach, Florida.

This version of retirement living offers residents a more or less constant party atmosphere, with bars, a band shell, outdoor movie screen, restaurants, shops and, 20-minutes away by shuttle van, an oceanfront beach club. Light classic rock plays throughout the property including, of course, an ample selection of Jimmy Buffet songs.

Margaritaville was a hit before the first phase opened: more than 150 prospective buyers camped out overnight in the sales centre parking lot in 2017 to be sure they could make a down payment on a lot. Four years later, Phase 5, with 641 homes is completed and more than half sold, and lots are for sale in Phase 6. The development has approval for a total of 4,000 homes, and other versions of Margaritaville are under construction elsewhere in Florida.

(There’s a Canadian element to this story: the Daytona development is a joint project of Margaritaville Holdings and the US branch of Ottawa’s Minto Group.)

Satisfaction levels are high. As The New Yorker’s Nick Paumgarten noted:

“The citizens of Latitude Margaritaville testify so consistently to a life of gratification that one suspects, but finds no evidence for, a regimen of happy pills or talking points. Disgruntlement and curmudgeonliness must exist, but not in view of a visitor susceptible to such traits.”

With poker nights, pool parties, talent shows, pig roasts, and more, these folks, who zip around mostly on golf carts, are definitely ticking the socialization box on the aging gracefully list.

“If it’s isolation that ails us . . . then the solution, especially for those tilting into their lonelier elderly years, would seem to be fellowship, activity, fun. In Margaritaville calculus, the benefits of good company outweigh the deleterious effects of alcohol. Merriment is medicinal.”

My largely unformed retirement plans definitely do not include the possibility of living in Florida, and I suspect that even my desire for more socializing would fade in the face of the constant social whirl of Margaritaville, but I have to say that my the time I finished reading this article I found myself searching for that lost shaker of salt, along with the tequila, triple sec, lime . . . and maybe even some paper umbrellas. Perhaps a little wasting away even at this altitude isn’t an entirely bad thing.

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