Among many words that describe the lifestyle of older folks, mariner feels the word ‘gumption’ is a major descriptor. Researching the usage of gumption suggests that the general meaning of the word is to have ambition, motivation or, colloquially, ‘get-up-and-go’. But being old can’t be captured by one behavior; it takes a lot to be old – or conversely it takes losing a lot to be old.

Gumption has a lot to do with energy. As folks grow older, their power supply becomes worn and becomes harder to generate. Using an old automobile as an analogy, the engine’s piston rings aren’t as tight as they used to be; it takes more gas, oil and electric current to create the same horsepower; the carburetor, sparkplugs, distributor and air filter aren’t as finely tuned. Translate the analogy to a human being and the parts become internal organs, angina, aneurysm, lost muscle and less resiliency.

Gumption is more complex than just having energy. Older folks don’t have much to motivate them. Society leaves them behind; their careers are over, family members have passed on, all leaving little social purpose and little need to ‘get up and go’. There is no need other than a compulsive disorder to jump out of bed at 6 AM before the alarm clock has finished its chime. As the trite phrase says, “use it or lose it”. Motivation can wane just as muscles do.

The brain has a large influence on gumption. Using the automobile analogy again, brains are like tires: the tread wears out. Without tires the automobile may have a brand new engine and still not be able to function. The brain isn’t called the brain for nothing – it controls every aspect of a person’s physiology from the shape of toenails to the ability to think. Unfortunately, such a complex organ is easily affected by wear and tear.

Most notable about brain dysfunction are concentration and short term memory. It is hard to have gumption if a person is easily distracted. It is hard to perform tasks if they can’t be remembered long enough to be completed.

The advice to oldsters is to have gumption to experience life in whatever intellectual or physical way that sustains a relationship with life in general.

The advice to youngsters is to have respect for folks who can live day after day without fancy mental tools, any power tools or any reason to have tools but they continue performing as a human being. That requires its own definition of gumption.

Ancient Mariner

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