Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Grandpa Stopped Driving

Trite but true -- lots of old people don't want to give up driving, even when safety becomes more important than convenience. We have all seen this reality. Mention the subject and most people can rattle off stories running from amusing to tragic.

A few wise individuals are exceptional, however. They understand that they have two options: either make the choice themselves or wait until it is made on their behalf by factors out of their control.

(Giving up driving is a matter of control but most people never realize that real control is that which is delegated. Successful politicians and business people know this because they trust themselves to be good judges of other people. Unfortunately, most people never develop that level of self-trust. They probably know know how untrustworthy they are themselves but that is another line of thinking.)

A very wise resident where I work once said, "I'm a good driver. I never had any accidents. ButI stopped driving when I was ninety-seven. I knew if I was ever in an accident it would be my fault because I was ninety-seven. Even if it wasn't my fault it would still be my fault because I was ninety-seven, so I decided it was best to stop driving." This remarkable woman is now past 102 and is a model of grace, wit and cheerfulness to everyone around her. And no one could pick her out of a crowd of people under seventy. I think she ages more slowly because she makes good personal decisions about everyday matters.

My wife's Grandpa was cut from the same fabric. After he died this note was found among his writings. It is a draft copy of a notice he sent to his insurance agent after a minor driving incident that was a wake-up call he was able to hear.

Bradenton, Fla.
Dec. 21, 1973

Mr. Stewart Rogers
Nationwide Insurance
Kenton, Ohio

Dear Mr. Rogers:

This note is to inform you that I have changed my position in the car to the right side. My wife Mary will be the principle driver. Her driving record is excellent. No accidents in the 31 years of our marriage. She is only 73 years old and very alert.

Life is activity, and time takes its toll. It is regrettable that for some of us who tarry too long, must be realistic and phase out our former activities one by one and replace them with other avocations, which we may safely do, and keep us happy and usefully occupied until the great transition.

Age 86

I didn't change the syntax of that last sentence because it captures exactly the mood of the letter as it stands. Besides, that is exactly what he wrote. Notice he never said plainly that he was not going to stop driving, but it is clear from what he wrote that even at 86 he was able to recognize and accept the limitations of age as they came along.

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