No doubt all of us know a senior citizen who has a tendency to say things he should not. My friend Bob was telling me that his father was sitting with him in church one Sunday morning when he noticed one of Bob's neighbors sitting a couple of pews in front of them. "Her hair looks terrible," he whispered. The woman roled her head a quarter-turn in their direction acknowledging that she heard the old man. Bob and his wife Mary Lou were mortified.
I laughed and told him that his father could not help himself. I said, "Bob, the frontal lobes responsible for inhibiting unwanted speech, shrink with age." How would I know that? A study reported in Newsweek said that very thing. Indeed: It turns out that after a certain age we can not be held responsible for the things we say. Most of us have thoughts that we do not express aloud. The boss says, "Where's the report you were supposed to have on my desk by noon?" We think, but do not dare say, "Are you in the Twilight Zone? I've given you that report a week ago."
Your husband says, "I was thinking about buying a new truck." You think, but never say, "Maybe you should just wash your truck."
These days older men and women talk uttering something unkind have just two options. They can dismiss any criticism by saying something like, "I've been around a long time." permission to hurt people's feelings with abandon. Another response when done in the act of saying something horrifying is to deny the transgression. "I did not mean anything by it. This, after Uncle Salvatore tells his nephew that if he keeps eating like that he'll need two seats at the movies.
Of course, the baby boom generation will not stand still for these equally unpalatable choices. Boomers have learned how to change the rules better than any generation in history. In the first place, the World Health Organization will probably add frontal lobe shrinkage to the International Classification of Diseases. Imagine having carte blanche to say whatever we like to not mention being bolstered by the inevitable support groups that will raise money to fight the problem. Consider the possibilities! We can all have a diagnosis on parade during happy hour. In fact our conversation, remarks we make about someone's weight, their skin tone or their skinflint ways, will be like having trump cards in a game of hearts. The more outrageous we are the better.
Notwithstanding the promise of being blessed with a legitimatosis diagnosis, I am worried about that what I say may still offend some people. No doubt someone will spoil things for those of us saying to say whatever is on our minds. A university research assistant will certainly posit the notice that frontal lobe shrinkage is an avoidable problem if only people would jog eleven miles a day. In spite of the protection we can expect from senior citizens groups, there's a chance that saying something we should not even be thinking will still be frowned on. No problem. Even if I can not completely edit myself, I can at least say what's on my mind sotto voce.
Or so I thought. My friend Bob just told me why the woman with the funky hair heard his father's comment. "My father spoke with a senior citizen's whisper." Obviously a whisper has to be soft, yet loud enough for the intended recipient to hear. Being able to hear your own whisper is a good way to gauge your success when you want to transmit a secret. Being the jokester that Mother Nature is, just when the frontal lobes are shrinking, it's also getting harder to hear what we have to say. That's when we acquire something more akin to a stage whisper. So, even if we are editing ourselves, more or less, we can still be overheard, apparently with ease.
Another thing Bob told me was that after observing comments made by seniors in his life, he decided to apologize to his children in advance for the things he might say in the future. He's a wise man. I've decided to follow his example. Therefore, to anyone who knows me or may meet me in the future, I want to apologize right now for the things I might say that should be left unsaid.