Once, many years ago, I was riding in the backseat of ’64 Mustang, going downhill in a snowstorm, and the brakes went out. There were four of us along with textbooks and suitcases crammed into that Mustang. We were college kids heading home for Christmas break, five hours into an eight-hour drive. Until the moment the driver started frantically pumping the brakes and downshifting, we’d been singing to the radio to keep awake. Carefree and oblivious. Through the driving snow we could see a red stop light at the bottom of the hill and a line of cars and semis on either side of the intersection. We fell silent as we barreled toward the light. Just as we thought our brief young lives were over, the light turned green. We flew through the intersection, then to avoid slamming into a car that suddenly appeared in front of us, we careened off the road into a frozen corn field where, screaming and cursing at this point, we eventually slid to a stop, shaken but upright. I remember that once we knew everybody was alright, we broke into laughter, wild, uncontrolled, adrenalin-filled joy. What a relief it was to be alive.

     That’s what elderhood reminds me of. You’re going downhill and you can’t see what’s ahead, though you suspect it isn’t pretty. You can make heroic efforts to slow your descent, but you can’t stop it. It’s inevitable: You’re going to die. But what a relief that today you didn’t. Today you got out of bed under your own steam and sallied forth. You’re alive, and as the years pile on that’s something.

     Like the light turning green, a lot of luck is involved in reaching elderhood. Getting to 70 and beyond means you’ve managed to outwit all ten of the leading causes of death. So far, so good.

     Elderhood focuses you. Forget all those trivial worries about wrinkles and gray hair and your sagging jowls that you had in your 50s. Health and money are your main concerns. How long, you wonder, will you and your spouse and friends be upright? Will you be able to “age in place” or be carted off to the “old folks’ home?” Which will go first – you or your money?

     But the good news is you don’t have the time or energy to dwell on regrets or things you can’t do anything about. Like the state of the world. It terrifies and infuriates you. What happened to peace, love, and understanding? The whole damn country went off the rails while you were busy working for the man and keeping your kids off the drugs you enjoyed in your youth. You got distracted buying all the crap you’re trying to get rid of now. Sure, the political and environmental mess your kids and grandkids face is distressing, but there’s comfort in knowing you won’t be around to see the worst of it.  

     In elderhood, as the old song goes, the days dwindle down to a precious few. You realize you won’t see that many more glorious springs. The days you once took for granted with family and friends are numbered. It’s imperative that you don’t screw up the time you have left. So here’s some advice: Stay off the damn news; it’s bad for your blood pressure. Read a good book instead. Or write one if you’re so inclined. Take a walk while you still can. Listen to the songs you’ve always loved while you can still hear them. Stop needing to be right all the time. Pay attention to your life: Really look at the people you love. Hug them every chance you get. And laugh as long and loud and often as you can.

     It’s a great life if you don’t weaken, my Aunt Olive used to say. But I’m going with my friend Susan’s version. She said this when she was facing down ALS so you can take it as gospel: It’s a great life even if you do weaken.

Interconnecting Circles

Karen Hunt 
Born 1948

At 25, just out of grad school, I was an associate editor on a new magazine in Chicago where I got to meet Vincent Price and Isaac Asimov. I would tell young me to stop being so self-critical and self-deprecating. You are and will always be enough.

#Karen Hunt


  1. Sally Mudd - April 27, 2024 @ 8:30 am

    Great piece, Karen, and full of the no-nonsense perspective I can always expect and appreciate from you.

  2. Karen Hunt - April 26, 2024 @ 11:12 am

    Thank you for your wonderful comments. To quote Ruth Gordon when she won an Oscar, “I can’t tell you how encouraging a thing like this is…”

  3. Christine Schmoeckel - April 26, 2024 @ 9:00 am

    Your writing is just magical. Always! And on point with a smile. Love you! Sharing this piece widely.

  4. Barbara Ridley - April 25, 2024 @ 12:20 pm

    Wow Karen this is wonderful. I love the use of the anecdote from your youth – careening down the hill – and then reflections on aging. Yes, a lot of luck is involved. And I love that you mention our dear Susan.

  5. Alice Feller - April 24, 2024 @ 6:29 pm

    Karen, I loved this story. It’s so dramatic and vivid, yet in a small space you lay out some wisdom that left me thinking. Thank you!

  6. Jerry Pannone - April 23, 2024 @ 10:45 pm

    Really beautiful Karen. Thank you for your insight into what is most important as we slide down that hill while pumping the brakes.

  7. Linda Eck - April 15, 2024 @ 12:02 pm

    The 50+ years fade away and I can almost hear you r voice telling the story of your trip home. And you laugh out loud as though it were nothing. The rest, as you say, is not only elderhood but sisterhood – weak or strong. Blessings abound!

  8. David Schweidel - April 14, 2024 @ 4:46 pm

    The opening metaphor knocks me out! I’ve read those first two paragraphs to a few people now – you really capture that headlong feeling! And the double meaning of going downhill.

  9. Mardith - April 10, 2024 @ 12:33 am

    Karen, such an accurate description, truly. The whole was true and compelling to read. My favorite parts: The whole damn country went off the rails while you were busy working for the man and “keeping your kids off the drugs you enjoyed in your youth,” and ” but there’s comfort in knowing you won’t be around to see the worst of it.” My sentiments exactly.

  10. Carl - April 8, 2024 @ 9:00 pm

    My Goodness Karen– at your age still getting better and better with each story you write. I love “Elderhood”– you are so witty and wise. “it’s a great life even if you do weaken,” indeed.

  11. Heidi - April 8, 2024 @ 7:50 pm

    Love this story! Thank you for sharing the tale and also the insight gained. I also know of your favorite ever comic … about all the crap! 🙂

  12. Greg Nelson - April 8, 2024 @ 2:03 am

    What wonderful reflections and advice, thank you!

  13. Marcy Kates - April 7, 2024 @ 4:43 pm

    Wonderful essay, Karen. My heart is still beating fast from the near-fatal car incident!

  14. Scott Maurice Rubsam - April 7, 2024 @ 3:09 pm

    True brilliance shines on forever. That’s what you are, Karen Hunt: true brilliance. And I’ve always known that. I love what a friend of mine used to say about death. “A lot of white light and no rent to pay. What’s not great about that?” I guess we’ll find out. But that’s for tomorrow, isn’t it? After all, there’s always tomorrow. Until there isn’t.

  15. Helen Pettay - April 7, 2024 @ 8:57 am

    It is such a joy to read your work again. I could almost feel those breaks being pumped—as well as the adrenaline—in the opening paragraph. Those of us who look at life as a series of headstones instead of milestones can learn much from your advice, as ever. Thank you.

  16. J D - April 6, 2024 @ 8:48 am

    I love and especially appreciate:
    “… outwit all ten of the leading causes of death.” and
    “… buying all the crap you’re trying to get rid of now.”
    Perfect tonics for my soul.
    Thank you!
    I needed that!

  17. Daniel Danzig - April 6, 2024 @ 8:33 am

    What can I say? 35 years of listening to you bitch and moan, love and care, and write brilliantly with passion, insight, humor. A constant inspiration and true, true friend.

  18. Sue A - April 6, 2024 @ 8:21 am

    Thank you.

  19. Martina Reaves - April 6, 2024 @ 7:44 am

    Karen, it’s one of your best pieces, deep and funny and vivid.

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