Let Inga Tell You: The mysteries of elder-think are revealed

Recently, I received this e-mail from my late-20s son, Henri:

For your next column, I think you should write about the backwards logic of the elderly. Your recent comment that you are “too old for near-death experiences” (i.e. things that scare you) is paradoxical to me. Since you are already old (62-Inga), it seems to me that you should be more willing to risk death since you have less to lose? I, on the other hand, have 40 to 50 great years ahead of me, so I shouldn’t ever risk death. If I were really old, I would be in a rush to try to get in as many things as I could since time is running out. Go figure.

Dear Henri:

Go figure indeed. You do raise some intriguing questions. But I think the simple answer as to why old people are not willing to risk death is that we are not, unlike a core group of people your age (but fortunately not you), judgment-challenged idiots.

Your mother was definitely one. While we ossifying oldies remember well the sense of invulnerability that characterizes youth, the reason we are still here is that we have recovered from it. Or at least lived to tell about it. Olof, as you know, was an Air Force pilot in his younger years and did some very high-risk flying. When asked why he didn’t remain a pilot, he likes to quote the saying, “There are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old bold pilots.”

I must also take issue with your suggestion that we in the senectitude set have “less to lose.” I’d like to live long enough so that my currently-infant grandchildren could pick me out of a lineup. (Well, hopefully not literally, but that all depends on how Social Security holds up.) Never having them know me and remember me would be a lot to lose indeed.

As for you kids, when Olof and I were on work assignment in Sweden in 2006, I concluded that the key to a loving relationship between a mother and her adult sons was 7,000 miles. I’ve worked hard since then to continue the close bond I have with you and Rory, and enjoy basking in the warm glow of my efforts, a plan which would be seriously thwarted by my untimely death.

And I cannot imagine being separated from the much-adored Olof. And not just because it would irk the hell out of me to crump and have Olof — and my estate — succumb to the charms of a 32-year-old pole dancer.

As for “rushing to get as many things in as I could,” I am rushed out. I spent my 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s rushing. If I haven’t gone there and done that, I’m either not interested or will rent the video.

I know you think 62 is a little early to be hanging around smelling the roses. But I’m just happy that most of my senses and a quorum of my body parts are still in operation. In the last issue of my college alumni news, it seemed like everyone had had a knee replacement. Except for the ones who had a double knee replacement.

While your mother is hardly a financial genius, she does recognize that when one has a shorter term to invest, the return has to be better. So I’m fairly picky about what I want to invest my time in. It had better be really fun. And not involve the 405, O’Hare or anything made with Jell-O. I don’t want to have my life be a to-do list, a bucket list, or in fact, ANY kind of list.

At your age, I wanted the 19 countries in 21 days see-it-all, do-it-all trip. I now aspire to the Italian philosophy of l’arte di far niente — the art of doing nothing. And preferably, as slowly as possible.