And I’m betting you’ve already decided not to read this.
There’s a story going viral about an old woman who took down a cashier because the cashier told her using plastic bags was a no-no in this new environmentally-aware society. The old woman spent 10 minutes holding up the line, first annoying, then enchanting the crowd as she talked about recyclable glass bottles, paper bags, cloth diapers, push mowers, vehicles that didn’t guzzle gas, gadgets that didn’t need walls full of plugs, accessories that didn’t need satellites to make them operable — stuff like that.
The story may or may not be apocryphal, but it’s everywhere. In some versions the old woman is described as “elderly”, as if to make sure we understand just how how awesome this story is. She had lived in an era that no longer exists, that most don’t remember, and, man, wasn’t she wonderful? Who knew? Yay!
I’ve always hated that word “elderly” and now that it appears to apply to me I hate it even more. It’s a sniffy, insulting descriptor having nothing to do with the honorific, “elder”.
If you call me elderly it tells me you’ve put me in a box that separates me, that diminishes me, that labels me as a freakish anachronism only good for studying — as if, at 82 years old, I’m an anthropological wonder, a fragile specimen threatening to go extinct at any moment.
If you tie a glossy ribbon around me, if you talk to me softly (or loudly, in case you think I’m deaf), if you treat me as if I have a “Handle With Care” sticker on me, you don’t honor me, you insult me.
My age and the condition of my body does not define me, any more than those things define you, but I’m not Tina Turner or Jane Fonda (Both my peers and looking great.) My gait, my stoop, my skin, my eyes, my hair, my voice — I can’t fool you. You’ll know instantly and you’ll change how you react to me. It’s inevitable.
But if I play my cards right you’ll forget all that and pay attention to the person inside. If I can get you to shut your eyes and ignore the quaver in my voice we’ll be right there on the same plane. Not peers — that can’t happen — but equals.
And, as equals, we’ll be far more comfortable. I’ve been a kid, a grown-up, a wife, a mom, a grandmother, a traveler, a supermarket cashier, a long distance operator, a real estate agent, a receptionist, a secretary, a paraprofessional, a professional writer, a conference speaker, a creative writing instructor, a grant recipient, and, currently, a blogger who sometimes pretends her keyboard is as mighty as Excalibur. (Opinions, you may have noticed,are my thing.)
I have a Linkedin page, two Facebook pages, and a Twitter page with 3700 followers. (Chicken feed for some, but “Trending on Twitter” is on my bucket list.)
There are some things I won’t do now. I won’t get to Europe or Asia or anywhere outside of North America. I won’t get a college degree. I won’t watch my great-grandchildren grow up. I won’t become an actress. I won’t sing with Tony Bennett. I won’t be that writer whose quotes can be Googled.
And you’ll be happy to know I won’t be running for public office.
Elizabeth Warren is 70 years old. Donald Trump is 73 years old. Joe Biden is 76 years old. Bernie Sanders is 78 years old. One of them is president and the others are working to take that job away from him. No matter what you think of any of them, their age should be way down on that list of qualifications. There are plenty of young people with far lower energy levels. Three out of four of them have brains that still work well.
Three out of four of them know exactly how much energy and stamina it takes to campaign for and then do the job. They’re prepared for long days and sleepless nights and schedules that many young people couldn’t endure. If they’re not worried about their age, why should you be?
You might not want to admit it, but you’ve made this an ageist society. You give arbitrary cut-off dates for jobs old people might still qualify for, if only you could look past our appearance, or even our infirmities, and recognize our worth as still useful, still viable human beings. (See Jimmy Carter.)
If only you didn’t feel you have the right to decide for us.
How old is too old? Let us figure that out. Not all of us are so impaired we can no longer think for ourselves. If we are, then you get to interfere.
Not all of us need help getting through the day. If we do, we’ll let you know.
But a lot of us — millions of us — are okay with who we are, just as we are. Old. And if you don’t judge us for our age, we won’t judge you for yours.
Because — let me remind you— we’ve already been where you are now. (Insert smiling emoji so you’ll see I mean this as a sweet put-down and not a total insult.)