Oh, is there any sort of freude as deeply satisfying as Senior Freude? I think not. The word schadenfreude is, perhaps, one of Germany’s most useful exports. Roughly translated as “too-bad-so-sad-joy”, schadenfreude describes that guilty glee that almost every human enjoys when learning of the misfortunes of others. Or to be more precise, when those misfortunes seem richly deserved. (Just to enjoy someone’s impairment or loss or struggle without some sort of just cause would make you an evil narcissist, and we cannot celebrate your lack of compassion.)
It is in these, our silver years that we begin to get a peek at the last chapter of our stories (and an opportunity to crank up the cliches and alliteration to our heart’s content). Genetics, lifestyle, personality and circumstance have all been building upon each other, minute after minute and year after year. It is said that we reach our peak in terms of physical soundness at around 27 years. After that, incrementally, we erode, deteriorate, disassemble, deconstruct …ever so slowly. Usually not realizing that time is catching up with us until we wince at that first stab of plantar fasciitis or refill the now-necessary Viagra prescription or hot-flash so hot the upholstery starts to smolder or discover a sudden, inexplicable interest in crochet.
All of the decisions we have made in our lifetime concretizes (good word, yes?) in our 4th quarter. We pay the fiddler. Or we pay the piper. Or we pay the ferryman…we pay, at any rate. Sometimes the costs are astronomical, like the invoice for a lifetime of smoking. Sometimes the tab is marginal, like over-tweezing our eyebrows in our younger years or wearing a Dentists Drill Better tattoo into our 70s.
But none of this sparks joy. What brings us true senior freude is seeing our smug relatives, friends and acquaintances taken down just a wee notch …nothing devastating or life-threatening…just a little nudge, a reminder that what goes around comes around in the silver years.
We are talking about comeuppance. We can all agree that kindness and mercy and forgiveness (blah, blah) are stellar senior qualities. However, it is also a tiny hoot to hear that your ex-husband, a man who once bragged on his astonishing virility (which he shared with any female who was too slow to be suspicious of that much bravado), can’t make it up three steps without stopping to rest. Or your friend of 50 years who always said of herself, tragically, “I just can’t seem to put on any weight! I’m just as skinny now as I was in high school…” You wanted to force-feed her Pringles back in the day, but now she’s got some sort of metabolic disorder, and it secretly pleases you to witness her frustration as she navigates her larger-than-waif life.
What freude to tut-tut over your teacup upon learning that senior friends are forced to sell their enormous custom-built home. You know the type…people who regard monetary wealth as the natural outcome of intelligence and good character. Now they have had a reverse of fortune, and you see that their $8000 Agfa stove is on Craigslist. “Hmmm…well, that’s no surprise. I don’t know what they were thinking with all those stairs. AND a special room for their orchids. Who ever heard of an orchidarium? They’re going to have to downsize like the rest of us, and just where are they going to unload that Steinway? What a shame.” Tut-tut.
The challenge is, of course, that Senior Freude is a private guilty pleasure and must be vigorously quashed if it shows any tendency to escape into the open air. You cannot go around publicly enjoying anyone’s downturn without suffering some serious social displeasure. You may say, “I was so sorry to hear that Maynard had to retire early. I’m sure he is looking forward to doing more traveling with his wife.” You may not say, “It’s about time someone at the bank sued that slimeball for sexual harassment!” Society frowns on smugness and will not tolerate it for long. You may be setting yourself up to become the Freudee instead of the Freuder.
There is an added caution. You may simultaneously experience conflicting feelings of guilt or shame while enjoying a little freude. This is a perfectly natural side effect and signifies that you are still a good person who is just having a bit of a lark. All things in moderation. You don’t, after all, want to alert Karma that you are getting über-freude and maybe you have had it too good for too long. You don’t want to become the source of a whole Seniors’ Center worth of schadenfreude. Fruede responsibly.
Ingrid arrived from Texas 20 years ago with her 6-year-old daughter. In addition to writing, she has many non-marketable skills and degrees. She was also voted "Most Likely to Choose a Book Everyone Else Hates" by her book club. Ingrid's tramp stamp tattoo is a quote from Jimmy Buffet: If we couldn't laugh, we would all go insane.
Ingrid can be contacted at email@example.com
Copyright Ingrid R. Gabriel, November 2023