• Richard Portugal

My Heroes Have Always Been Seniors



Willie Nelson, that icon of the country-western ballad, sings a song that resonates with affection, pride and wonder. “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” is Willie’s tribute to a class of individuals that demonstrate verve for life and cherish their independent lifestyle. Cowboys are individualists, stylists, and survivalists. Willie is no idealist, however, and sings in his unique resonated voice:


“My heroes have always been cowboys.

And they still are, it seems.

Sadly, in search of, but one step in back of,

Themselves and their slow-movin’ dreams.”


Cowboys, it seems, search their entire lives for an unattainable dream, and yet remain heroic to those who witness and admire their struggle. They harness the gifts that nature has bestowed and strive to confront life’s tribulations with a straightforward resolve. Their dreams may be reactionary, but their reaction is timeless. If I were writing this song, the title would be “My Heroes Have Always Been Seniors”! Are we not modern day wanderers searching for dignified responses to the problems of aging, disease and death? Does not society’s landscape seem at times bleak and unbending? Doesn’t our struggle demand we find an independent path through a road beset with obstacles?


Let us be honest, we live in a society ill prepared to care for its growing senior population. We are a tidal wave about to break upon ill-equipped shores. There is neither the political will nor the financial resources available to confront this human wave. Seniors are on our own. We must care for ourselves and be our own advocates. We must be independent, adventurous, dynamic, consistent, obstinate, determined and focused. We must be cowboys!


As Willie croons, cowboys have:


“…Old worn-out saddles, and ‘old worn-out memories,

With no one and no place to stay.”


These aging baby boomers, and generations of seniors to follow, have worked hard and diligently to obtain their share of peace, respect and rest that retirement should reward. They have worn out their saddles and yet find no respite and no place to stay. This great country of ours now presents but a shadow of hope for a generation of citizens that have fought world wars, paid taxes and relied on political promises and the accompanying high expectations.


“I grew up a-dreamin’ of bein’ a cowboy,

and Lovin’ the cowboy ways.

Pursuin’ the life of my high-ridin’ heroes,

I burned up my childhood days.”


And so, we find the hopes and dreams of our childhood days crushed upon the unyielding shores of financial and social realities. And with that reality is the realization that we have no one to rely on except ourselves. I have witnessed firsthand some seniors who heroically cope with the shattering of their dreams. Whether healthy or burdened with a chronic disease, they take ownership of their world and confront their problems realistically. This no excuse response to problems of balance, diminished cognition, pulmonary disease, coronary blockage, diabetes, arthritis, hearing, sight, and bone loss is inspirational. They accept what help is proffered, but know that being a cowboy means keeping your Independence.

It is the nature of the human condition that we do not remain youthful and vibrant. But as seniors we can form new dreams and remain vital in confronting our new realities.


It is with that resolve that seniors are heroes. We must ignore political protestations and glib solutions. The future does not offer the life of high-ridin’ heroes, but does offer our generation the chance once again to think large and shape our future on slow- movin’ dreams. But this time, let us write the lyrics and face the music on our own terms.


Copyright © 2018 Richard J. Portugal, Fitness Senior Style, LLC, 201-937-4722 All rights reserved.

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