by David Greenberger
Old people. You may already be one; if not, you hopefully one day will be. Pete Townsend's line, "Hope I die before I get old," can only come from the limited perspective of youthful exuberance and naivete. Pete himself is now surely singing, "Hope I get old before I die."
I first met the residents of the Duplex Nursing Home in Boston in 1979, and have been exploring avenues to communicate my sense of them and others to an audience ever since. In our culture, outside of seeing it occur in family members, we're given scant opportunity to witness the process of aging until we're already in the midst of it ourselves. And as family members age and die it points back to that thorny issue of our own mortality. We learn by example; all of the important decisions we make which determine how we live our lives are made having seen others wrestle with the same choices. I've wanted examples of aging for myself, and I have made it my job to find ways in which to communicate those examples to others. I haven't been asking for answers to the meaning of life, because the answers lie in the way people live their lives in the very moment I'm with them; what amuses or upsets them, what moves or enrages them, what tires and wakes them.
It has been my aim to offer a range of characters who are already old. This allows one to get to know them as they are now, without constantly celebrating or mourning who they were before. Furthermore, it has been my intention to show as broad a range of people as possible. Since the elderly are already thought of by what they have in common -- that they're all old -- I try to recast them as individuals. The are individuals for whom the fact of their age, and the decline that comes with it, doesn't alter the larger reality of waking up anew everyday as the same unique person. They may be moving through the world around them with diminished capacities, but nonetheless, they remain an utterly unique conglomeration of passions, ticks, foibles, and prejudices.
Pub. April 1999