I overheard a conversation recently in which a particular phrase cut through the clatter of background noise in a busy office.
ďIf you ask me, they ought to just keep all the old people off the roads,Ē someone said.
The comment struck a nerve with me for several reasons. First, Iím nearly at the point where I can qualify as a member of that demographic category. Some might even argue that at times I act like Iím already there. Look, Iíve got things to do and places to go, so pardon me if I forget that my turn signal is on, or I drift into the other lane in front of you while trying to figure out where that ďding-ding-dingĒ is coming from.
But primarily, the comment struck me because Iíve just returned from a visit with my mother ó who at 81, definitely qualifies as a senior citizen. And in recent months, her vision has deteriorated to the point where she is ready to give up her driving privileges. Never mind that the State of North Carolina says she sees well enough to get behind the wheel for another 18 months. She doesnít think itís all that safe for her to be driving, and her eye specialist isnít arguing the point.
Her physician says she has exhausted the options available to delay the ravages of macular degeneration.
Not every senior citizen who needs to be kept off the road, to the reckoning of younger people, suffers from poor eyesight. Some have diminished physical reflexes, or have delayed reactions due to changes in their mental processes. But the sad fact is, not everyone out there on the roads and highways needs to be driving ó even if somehow they all have managed to pass the stateís driving exam.
If only things were that simple ó that everyone who doesnít possess the physical or mental abilities to drive would recognize that fact and take the appropriate steps, regardless of age. Many, like my mother, do recognize it. But they have few alternatives.
Not everyone lives in a city with convenient public transportation.
Not everyone has made the compromises needed to give up living independently and move into an assisted living situation ó one with transportation services.
Not everyone lives close enough to a relative or has a close friend, who is able and willing to provide rides when needed to go to church, the beauty parlor or the grocery store.
OrÖ the eye doctor.
What does a person do in that transition period when itís really not the best idea to be driving, even though that precious ticket to independence ó a driverís license ó remains valid?
This situation has been developing for several years, and I guess my sister and I have been in a type of denial about it, even though weíve often discussed what will happen when ďthat dayĒ arrives. If ďthat dayĒ isnít here now, itís imminent.
The burden of sorting this out falls squarely on my sister, who lives 15 or so miles away instead of the 1,300 miles that I must travel. But care for Mom as we do, it is a burden ó albeit a labor of love ó because my sister is a decade younger than I, and she has two school-age boys whose sports, music and extracurricular school activities are enough to keep her circling the city most of the day even if she didnít have a fulltime job.
Some difficult decisions may be ahead for our family, and most of them will have to be made by Mom.
It hasnít been all that long ago that I would have been offering a hearty ďhere, here!Ē to someone making a comment such as the one in the first paragraph. But I guess my feelings about that moderated a few years ago when, while puttering along with Mom at the wheel at about 25 mph on a thoroughfare with a 45-mph speed limit back when her eyesight was still good. Another driver passed, honked at us, and after catching the attention of everyone in our car, displayed the single-digit salute. Now, Iíve been the recipient of this gesture a couple of times, usually when looking for a particular street in the Metroplex and slowing down traffic in the process. But that was directed at me. When it went to my Mom, I quickly discovered what road rage is all about.
So while I may not be the driver out there slowing down traffic ó yet ó Iíve become more patient with those who are. After all, it is probably someoneís mother, and Iím really not in that big of a hurry to get where Iím going. And hopefully, they too will know when itís time hang up the keys for good.
Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.