Longevity guilt with salad (2 poems and a cure)

Sketch of worried old woman sitting on a bed in her house. Outside a fierce sun frowns at her. Homeless person sleeping under a tree.
Longevity guilt can strike on pension day. What am I doing for the world?

At 81, my age is enough to trigger longevity guilt:

“This year about half the (New Zealand) government’s welfare budget will be paid to people over the age of 65 as superannuation benefits.”

Stuff, Thursday 18 March.

Here I am, fit and healthy and housed and 81. What can I do to help this lopsided world that we, the old people, have messed up almost beyond repair? Longevity guilt gets us nowhere. How to be useful? How to contribute? Is that the cure? I have my own ideas, I do what I can… but what is enough, what is possible?

Longevity guilt with salad

I’m so happy
sitting in a yellow booth
with my coffee
and a seven dollar salad.

What have I done in life
to deserve this delight
when most are poised
on the blade of a knife?

I had good luck
not virtue or vision
or self control
or common sense.

An accident of birth
brought me coffee
in a yellow booth
and a seven dollar salad.

As a Brownie I did
a good turn every day
but this is living-a-long-time guilt
longevity guilt.

— Rachel McAlpine (early draft, 2021 🙂

The bravest are millions

Out there living the bravest days
are the very old, the frail old
using every scrunch of the soul
for the next impossible chore.
The very old must win and win
on multiple fronts
day after trembling day.

Out there building the bravest lives
are the young
knowing what we knew
and did not do.

—Rachel McAlpine (How To Be Old, The Cuba Press 2020)

13 thoughts on “Longevity guilt with salad (2 poems and a cure)

  1. We cannot change history. Nor can we change our past. We can, however, do our best to help change the future. Sympathy and apologies fix nothing, but every little action helps!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That hits the nail on the head.

  2. I think the young should seek our opinions a little more than they do – which is exactly where things were fifty years ago when I didn’t give two hoots what old people thought. Life is weird! We just have to try and live the best life we can. Thinking about how to do this is our part to play. You for one are doing so and doing it good! xx

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      And vice versa, surely– asking young people what they think?

  3. cedar51 says:

    I’m one of the over 65ers but I’m still in that 6th decade for about another month!

    Recently I came upon a doctor in an ED who decided that I have to have help – apparently and he didn’t check his facts – he thought as I lived alone, I must be lonely; that I should be housed in a group housing situation or similar. Then as if that wasn’t enough, he decided I needed a social worker to help… as time went on during that week and a bit more – the mis-communication issues continued. You see I must need help as I have a very bad hand tremor – somehow it progressed when a very nice woman phoned me as she understood I needed help to “shower and dress”. Finally, after we spoke a while she said “Someone Has The Wrong End of the Stick” and she decided that my file needed to be closed as I was fully independent and I could certainly continue to live as I “PLEASE”

    I gained my degree in how to work with my hand tremor with additional issues on the day I was born and inherited the family tremor…as for my other disabilities they are hidden but they weren’t on show over that time period.

    I really think some people both young and slightly younger than me (or you) should really check their assumptions before they open their mouth or put pen to paper!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I’m glad to know commonsense prevailed and that you’ve been managing so well on your own. But, for the record, this post is not about younger people judging us. Quite the opposite. So my poems aren’t getting through…

  4. Cathy Cade says:

    Some cultures would value us for our wisdom…
    (or – put differently – learn from our mistakes)

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It’s me personally who feels the guilt. I don’t feel any pressure from outside.

  5. cedar51 says:

    Aha, now I understand your post, after re-reading it again. Apologies for me “getting the wrong end of the stick’

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thank you so much for re-reading 🙂

  6. Elizabeth says:

    I think your guilt can be assuaged as you continue to report truthfully from 81. You share much joy and life as you write. That goes a long way to countering ageism I think.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks Elizabeth. Now, about saving the planet…

      1. Elizabeth says:


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