by Justice William W. Bedsworth
This is what it said in the letter from my insurance company: “If you are sixty-five or older, you may name someone else (relative or friend) to receive duplicate notices concerning your insurance.”
Really. That’s what it said.
Mutual of Manitoba Fire Life and Casualty has decided I am now old enough that I need a designated mail reader.
Translation: “Dear Sir: I say, DEAR SIR . . . ARE WE SPEAKING LOUDLY ENOUGH FOR YOU TO HEAR? LET US KNOW IF YOU’D LIKE US TO USE AN AMPLIFIER—oh wait, he’s probably too old to know what an amplifier is; he’s SIXTY-FIVE, for crying out loud—LET US KNOW IF YOU’D LIKE US TO USE A MEGAPHONE.
“Sir, now that you’re standing on the edge of the abyss, just waiting for The Lord to take you home—an eventuality that can’t be more than days away—you are probably unable to understand your insurance notices. Hell, it’s a wonder you were able to open this envelope without help.
“So if you’d like, we will be happy to send duplicates to some whippersnapper (that is what you call them, right?) who will come over and explain them to you. For a nominal extra charge we will have him walk your dog (you really should have a dog, Sir . . . for companionship) and wipe the drool from your chin.
“Please let us know by return mail (that’s what we call the Pony Express now, Sir) whether you wish to take advantage of this offer. And remember, stamps are no longer 3¢; if you are still using those, get a VERY BIG ENVELOPE, SIR.
“SIR? SIR? ARE YOU STILL THERE? SIR, ARE ANY OF YOUR GRANDCHILDREN NEARBY?”
Another of the petty indignities of the aging process. In the words of Leonard Cohen, “That’s right, it’s come to this, it’s come to this, and wasn’t it a long way down? And wasn’t it a strange way down?”1
I am over sixty-five. Well over. Sixty-five is so far in my rear-view mirror that it’s hidden by the curvature of the earth.
But I am not yet to the point where I cannot read my own mail—despite what you may have heard from the appellate lawyers.2
So I was a little upset3 when I got this. True, I’ve lost a step from home to first—but only because I can no longer see first clearly.
And I do spend a lot of time thinking about the hereafter. I walk into a room and think, “What am I here after? I came here for a reason. I wouldn’t have climbed up those stairs for nothing. What did I come here to get?”
But it is not true that when I took my bachelor’s degree at Loyola, its namesake was on the faculty. And my legal education at Cal was not interrupted by the Gold Rush.
I am not yet ready for the glue factory. My golf handicap is lower than it was thirty years ago,4 I’m five pounds below my college playing weight,5 and I can make it up the forty-four stairs from my driveway to my kitchen without oxygen or a Sherpa.
I did not choose my doctor because she is a gerontologist . . . the doctor most highly recommended by my cardiologist just happened to be a gerontologist.6
The problem is we all grew up thinking sixty-five was really old. And it was, at one time. Social Security was originally designed to kick in at sixty-five and was sold to Congress in part on the basis that most people who qualified would not be collecting it for long—many not at all.
But times have changed. Modern medicine is largely indistinguishable from magic, and because of it we’re all living longer healthier lives.
I’m standing at my keyboard with a metal clip in my brain, wire in my breastbone, and a significantly shorter colon7—all the result of surgeries for things that used to kill people.
I tell my law students they should plan to practice for fifty years. I was told forty when I got out of law school, and that was forty-seven years ago, so I think fifty is a conservative estimate.
My point is8 we all need to re-think our pre-conceptions about age and the aging process. They are—in large measure—themselves superannuated.
Granted, every person is different. Every case must be decided on its own facts. And I have no beef with my insurance company for making this service available for the sixty-five-year-olds who need it.9 But we need to do away with some of our agist stereotypes.
The sixty-five-, seventy-, seventy-five-, eighty-year-olds in your life are almost certainly in better shape than their parents were at the same age. Evaluate the stereotype before adopting it.
Having said all that . . .
(Don’t you just hate it when those words come out of the judge’s mouth? You’re sitting there thinking, “We’re winning! We’re winning! We’re winning!” and then the judge says, “Having said all that . . .” and you think, “Omigod, she’s gonna make a U-turn! Quick, somebody pull the fire alarm switch! Shoot the lights out! Somebody stop her!”)
Having said all that, I offer here this month’s attempt at what the Supreme Court used to call “redeeming social value.”10 Are you ready? Here comes the big finish.
Do not lose sight of the fact that, as a lawyer, your audience will usually be old people or non-lawyers.
That’s it. That’s all I got. But it’s something I think is underappreciated by younger practitioners.
Governors tend to appoint experienced practitioners to the bench. Once there, those people generally stay on for quite a while. Ergo, old people. Generally.
And if your matter is before a jury, it will be chosen from a jury venire that you have reviewed. Ergo, non-lawyers.11
Speaking slowly is a good idea before both of those aggregations.
I told every court reporter I ever appeared before, “When I get excited, I talk too fast. And when I come into court, I get excited. So when I start talking too fast, wave at me, shout at me, throw your lunch at me . . . whatever it takes to slow me down.”
Not only did I get better results—and much better records—I collected a lot of free bananas, apples, and cookies.12
Slow down. It makes your argument easier to understand, it makes you appear more relaxed and therefore more confident, and it will disguise those awful moments when you can’t remember how you meant to finish the sentence when you started it.
It will also make this old guy a little less crotchety. Wait a minute? Did I just use the word “crotchety”? Maybe I’m older than I thought.
William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. And look for his new book, Lawyers, Gubs, and Monkeys, through Amazon and Vandeplas Publishing.