I am old. “You’re not old” “You’re as young as you feel” “Age is just a number” When people use these phrases, I don’t think that they realize how ageist the remarks are. The implication is that young is better than old.
When I say that I am old, I say it with pride. My message is that I am an elder. I have wisdom that cannot be obtained any way other than by getting old. When I look at the wisdom that I have now compared to ten years ago, I smile. On each birthday, I find that I have more insight than I had on the previous birthday. This is one reason that I continue to look forward to aging. I use the word “old” freely. Old is not a dirty word. It is just as lovely a word as young. A ninety nine year old woman told me about her experience with a young person who said, “You’re not old”. The ninety nine year old laughed and said to me, “What do I have to do to qualify?”
A few days ago, I heard a younger person say, “You are eighty four years young” to a man. When he did not laugh, she repeated it loudly several times. This guy remained civil, but I could tell that the man receiving this statement felt like rolling his eyes. I did roll my eyes. This is a statement that has irked me since I was a little kid hearing TV show hosts saying it. The statement was followed by canned laughter. Again, it was implied that young is a better word than old.
Now that I am old, this may sound like a defense. However, I have always felt this way. As a child, I admired my beautiful grandparents. I learned from them. I pass that knowledge along whenever I can.
I remember an incident that happened when I was in my twenties. My coworkers, who were in their thirties and forties, were whining about aging. They did not like wrinkles or gray hair. I stated my opinions about aging being a positive experience. I was looking forward to the gifts that would happen at each stage of life. These women told me that I was wrong. They shook their fingers at me. They said, “Just wait until it happens to you, you will see.” Well, they were wrong. My well earned wrinkles are here. I do color my hair. I don’t do this to hide the gray hair. I do it because it is fun. I have colored my hair since I was fifteen and I created my green streak, long before primary colors in hair became a trend.
I have always found it difficult to say “thank you” when someone says that clothes or a hair style make me look younger. If they said “pretty” or “nice”, I would respond with a “thank you”. Younger is a description, not a compliment. Our culture is brainwashed into believing that a youthful appearance should be the goal. This is all about money. “Buy this goop & rub it on you. You will look young. Young is better, so buy some more.” Phooey! An old face is every bit as beautiful as a young face. Wrinkles tell stories.
There are many ageist posts on social media. I often see the post of old folks dancing. They put stupid hats and goofy shoes on the dancers. They dance awkwardly. Do the people who send or enjoy these posts know any old people? There are similar posts about exercise. My husband and I have a good time in most situations. We chuckle because younger people squeal that we are so cute. We have a convertible car. A neighbor said, “You two are so cute in your car.” Cute? Would they say this to a young or middle aged couple?
We sometimes hear old people described as one type. They are like that because they are old. This statement is not true. The grumpy old man was probably the grumpy young man and the obstinate teenager. Sweet, grateful old people often behaved this way when they were younger. It is true that crises and loss can change people, but personalities stay pretty much the same unless someone works on changing themselves. Old folks are as diverse as any other age group. They have varying beliefs and talents.
There is a difference between being sick and being old. Many grow old without being sick. On the flip side, young people sometimes become sick. I have dealt with some serious illness that I did not want. Younger people said , ” It is tough getting old” in response to my illness. It has been important to me to clarify that they are seeing sickness, not age. Another cliché that I often hear is, “Honey, don’t get old”. Have they considered the alternative?
Long ago, I had a teacher who was preparing to retire. It was important to her to mentor as well as teach her subject. She stressed the importance of developing interests and talents that had nothing to do with a chosen career. She said that if people neglect this, they will be less likely to find a hobby when they retire. I admired this white haired lady and I followed her advice. For me, art has always been important. It has been with me from childhood through retirement, My career has been in healthcare. I enjoyed diversions during my off time. I definitely pass this advice on to anyone who cares to listen. Whatever your job is, do other things for fun that will carry you into retirement.
In several Native American nations, people are not considered adults until they are fifty one years old. Until then, it is o.k. to fumble and make mistakes, as one finds their way around the medicine wheel. In this belief system, people should not give advice until age fifty one. At fifty one, we become wisdom keepers. It is not only o.k. to give advice, it becomes a responsibility to pass along, to mentor. You have no idea who may be helped by you. My retiring college teacher from decades ago did not know that I would mentioning her forty six years later.
Readers: If you are young I hope you watch and listen to the elders in your life. See how it fits and then move on to be exactly who you are. If you are old, be grateful to be here. With pride, see yourself as a wisdom keeper. Share and mentor when you can. I am old.