Senior Stories

Ready to Throw in the Towel?

Sooner rather than later, folks like you and me – in their late 50s, 60s, 70s and older – are expected to withdraw quietly from active life to the golf course or cruise ship or rocking chair.

That’s the American way. Retire. Relax. Get out of the way. Wait for Ed McMahon to come knocking.

But these days, instead of vanishing into the invisibility of a gated Sun City somewhere, some of us – hundreds of thousands of us – choose to stand and be counted, often for the first time in our lives.

Consider Granny D.

On January 1, 1999, this great-grandmother from New Hampshire, then 89, started walking east from Pasadena, Calif., on a one-woman crusade for campaign finance reform. She walked 3,200 miles, 10 miles each day, protesting Washington’s failure to curb the legalized bribery that results in allowing the highest bidders to dictate the laws that govern America.

Granny D. feels that we’re becoming a “pseudodemocracy,” what Walter Lippmann called the illusory form of the thing without its content. Backed up by a van with food, water, and a bunk, this spunky woman leafleted passersby, collected petition signatures, and spread the word that “we’re going to have a government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations.”

Her website recounts, “Whew! Texas was a very long walk!” The first time I looked in on her, Doris “Granny D” Haddock had completed 1,675 miles, 825 of which were through Texas. She still had to trek through Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, Louisville, Cincinnati, Clarksburg and her destination, Washington DC”

She struggled with emphysema. Arthritis required her to wear a steel-ribbed corset. Her hearing aid helped her to identify the sounds of traffic. Yet, every day found her 10 miles closer to our nation’s capital.

Would you do that? For something in which you strongly believed?

Putting Her Feet Where Her Principles Are

I wouldn’t either. But I admire her for applying her feet to forward her principles. This remarkable woman wouldn’t authorize anyone to raise funds on her behalf, and no organizations provided financial assistance to her trek. She got by on her Social Security and the hospitality of strangers.

Her spunk helped get the Campaign Finance Reform Bill passed.

Wouldn’t you like to do change the world for the better?

Outstanding public service takes many forms. Theodore Roszak, in his “America the Wise,” says that thousands of retired Americans use their own money to cover the cost of transport, lodging and food in order to work with environmental organizations such as the National Audubon Society, Earthwatch, the US Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service. They repair public facilities in wilderness areas, build trails, plant and restore parks.

Others go to inner cities to build homes for the poor with Habitat for Humanity. Still more work with AARP’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program volunteering in nursing homes protecting the rights of frail elderly. RSVP, which began as part of President Johnson’s “Great Society,” enlists more than half a million seniors across the country who tutor in schools, act as environmental watchdogs, assist in clinics and courts, and provide services to elderly shut-ins.

Wherever your interests lie, you will find ways to help other people and at the same time help your country. Look in your newspaper for volunteer opportunities. Contact your local volunteer agency. See and need and fill it.

Don’t just stop, give up, and tumble into obscurity, griping all the way. Get involved. Help out. Be instrumental in change for the good.

Asked why she trekked across America on a mission some have called a fool’s errand, Granny D says: “Let me tell you about impossible causes. There are none on this earth if they are good causes.”

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