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Marilyn French: Walking, tottering, down Pearl Street on the way to jury duty I see a man my own age also using a cane hobbling towards me.

He addresses me and I think he is about to exchange greetings, but he says only "Consider the alternative." and walks on.

That is what all old people say about aging. They do not, however, tell you that there are days when the alternative looks preferable. As Betty Davis said, "Aging is not for sissies."

There are some compensations. After all those years, remember adolescence? Your twenties? Your first job?

All those years of not knowing how to act, not knowing how people felt about you, not knowing if you fit in or not or even whether you wanted to fit in or not.

All that anguish is gone, you no longer care. What is there to be afraid of? Whatever it is can only kill me and just last night, I was wishing something would.

There is another compensation more bitter-sweet than this. If you insist on remaining independent and you are compromised physically, you find yourself regularly thrust like Blanche Dubois on the kindness of strangers.

Excruciating as it is to find yourself an object of pity, this kindness rarely fails.

People of every sex, color, size and age stop in their swift passage to offer me a hand: up a curb; offer some ice; around a barrier; up some steps.

Sometimes I could not have managed without them, sometimes I could. In either case my benefactors have made it easier and more felicitous to live in this world.