Old Enough

You may have read a recent New Yorker article on ageism, Tad Friend's "Why Ageism Never Gets Old", or possibly flipped past it, not wanting to entertain the ominous thought, Do they mean me?

The summary: The ageist person does not like to be around the old, because it reminds them of loss: of competitive zeal, hair, stamina, and ultimately, life. The old are a buzz kill.

An ageist person may like specific individuals: charming Aunt Stacey, or the super-elder whom she met while hiking the Camino del Santiago—but as a group, we are not magnetic.

The astute American writer Edward Hoagland wrote an essay in which he described his fury at becoming hominum ingratum. At family party that involved a recital, a young woman thoughtlessly moved her chair in front of his, blocking his view.

Hoagland found her callousness deeply insulting, but did nothing, unless you count his essay. It is the accretion of such small acts that wears one down.

I say now, I'm old. I could use the euphemism aging, but everybody is agingSeventy, which I'll officially hit in July, is generally accepted as Oldland. Once you can collect every senior's discount going, why be coy about one's age, or insist that seventy is the new fifty? If you think it's the new fifty, try getting a job interview.

Sure, Hillary wanted to be President at seventy, and the current President is seventy-one, but political life seems to be its own planet, inhabited by Supreme Court justices who make seventy look mid-career. But those are old people too; there's much variation in capacity at this age.

But I digress, another sure sign of hitting seventy: everything reminds you of something else.

If some younger persons don't like me because of my age, that is not my problem, though if you're in the workforce, especially in certain occupations, the notion that your value is inverse proportion to your birth date is worrisome. And costly.

Could the next cultural uprising be #OldToo?

Friend includes a study's three possible solutions to ageism, which includes the caveat that they are unlikely given Western culture:
1. Having the elderly live among us and fostering respect for them,
2. Bolstering self-esteem throughout the culture to diminish the terror of aging, and
3. Calmly accepting our inevitable deaths.

That's a tall order for the already-stressed young ones, so those of us over fifty could take the lead.

We could boycott products that promise to "fight signs of aging"; avoid cosmetic procedures undertaken solely to obscure maturity (side benefit: you'll save money), insist the entertainment industry show some typical old people, not the stereotypes. (I liked "Grace and Frankie" well enough but who wouldn't recover quickly from divorce if she could do so on the deck of a Malibu beach house?)

We might refuse to live in age-segregated housing, and advocate for more services in multi-generational units. (Friend doesn't address the matter, but I find some of the most ageist persons to be old themselves.)

The "bolster self-esteem" part will be an enormous challenge, because modern life rarely does that for any adult; open any popular magazine and you'll be told you must get, upgrade or produce more.

As an old person, I've adopted a new mantra, I'm Old Enough For This. I'm Old Enough to get rid of "stuff" without thinking I should hang on to it; to sit in a park to watch the light change; to listen to every version of a favourite aria. I'm Old Enough to take the time I need to do a task as well as I want.

I am Old Enough to know from experience that age does not necessarily confer wisdom, and that old coots were equally miserable to be around when they were younger, but no one was willing to tell them.

We took our advantage in youth, let's take it now. We're luxuriously Old Enough to walk by a baby and stop to admire her without the parent thinking we are anything other than a person in awe of new life. We are Old Enough to read a hard book without worrying whether we will remember all of its complexity, and after reading, leave it in a bus shelter for someone to discover.

I hope we thank persons of any age who teach us about their world, and should those younger blame us for our mistakes—from introducing plastic shopping bags to getting rid of designated hitters—listen without reflexive defensiveness.

Then, there is #3. Everyone hopes for a good end, and when you are old, it becomes a more substantive matter. I read that Mother Teresa meditated daily, for five minutes, on her death. Personally, I am meditating about dying while taking a tango lesson, instantly and in the arms of someone named Javier.

These days, I am brought up short not just by lifetime guarantees, but even, as with the duvet I just replaced, a fifteen-year one.

In the meanwhile, there is plenty to do when you're Old Enough. So, Mr. Hoagland, tap that young guest on the shoulder and ask her to move her chair, now.


Adele said…
What she said! Because truly, I don't know know who could have said it better.
Madame Là-bas said…
I just read the article. As a 66 year-old with an 86 year-old mother, i am becoming increasingly aware of age. My mother gets miffed about it. "I've never heard so much talk about age and dying" she complains. I think that our generation may be be more accepting of growing old. Another thought-provoking blog!
Duchesse said…
Adele: Thank you very much.

Mme Là-bas: I can only guess at what your mother means, but I. think that the Boomers, because of their numbers, are making their wants known, as they always have, with force. It's in her face, because so many of us are very publicly buying supplements to (supposedly) reverse cellular ageing, getting Botox, or worried sick about retirement. We are, as Ken Dychtwald calls us, The Age Wave. So she is right, what this cohort wants to talk about gets into the air.
Jane M. said…
I'm 62 and look about 5 years younger and have been dismissed,ignored or condescended to by younger people, and it's hurtful. I read the New Yorker article and felt somewhat comforted - we all are going to get older, if we're lucky. Thank you for another thought provoking post.
Jane W. said…
I watched the Netflix series Godless, and at the end of a big shootout, a woman who looked to be around 60 emerged from a building, wearing pants and toting a rifle. An "older" (or at least not young) woman with agency! We need to see more of that.
I will be 70 in two weeks and did not believe I was old until my mother died 6 weeks ago at almost 102 and I realized I am now the oldest female in my family. I am bold and about a year ago my husband and I sat in a restaurant in an open area being passed by a variety of servers for about 15 minutes. Finally, I just said fairly loudly as the next one passed by, "are we invisible?" Lots of denial and decent service after that but WOW.
Duchesse said…
Jane M: Yes, that stings; it ii related to an overall erosion of and civility in general, IMO. That's why I most always accept an seat on the subway when a young person offers it, to reinforce that civility. Have you noticed another thing, a kind of respectful, collegial glance between old people, as if to say, "You're here, I'm here, and I see you"?
Duchesse said…
JaneW: I enjoyed that series though struggled with how Michelle Dockery could look so gorgeous while nearly single-handedly running a ranch in the back of beyond. But that's the movies. Loved Merritt Wever in that role. Having a feisty role model is very useful even if she is fictional. I always try to channel Molly Ivins.

Deb from Vancouver: Good for you for asking for what you want! If I idid not get decent service, I would leave an invisible tip, and explain why to the manager.

Leslie Milligan said…
I also read and enjoyed the New Yorker article. Regarding #1 - Having the elderly among us and fostering respect for them, I might add that we could do better accepting help when offered. I like your idea of accepting a seat on the bus to remind others of civility. I know I have been guilty of trying to do more than my older body might be capable, not wanting to be a burden. My almost 90 year old in-laws refuse to leave their 3 story home, despite frequent falling, because they don’t want to be a burden. This creates more of a burden for family who then must clean up the ensuing mess. I hope our generation is better at accepting help and admitting we are old. I suspect that might make us easier to be around. Say hi to Javier!
Duchesse said…
Lesie Milligan: I am not sure what is behind their reluctance, is the alternative is living with family? Or is the burden the cost? (Wondering, but you do not need to say.) My mother refused an assisted living situation until she was 94 (llived to nearly 99). One of the major reasons was that she did not want to be around debilitated people- she lived in a senior-only condo building but in FL that starts at 50. I certainly see the point and efficacy of assisted living but the age segregation dispirits me.

Some Swedish housing complexes have floors for older residents (with additional support) but a dining room and coffee shop open to all, so old people can mix (or if they prefer, not). That's more a co-housing model than assisted living or retirement home model.
Laura Jantek said…
Another excellent post; thank you!
LauraH said…
Echoing everyone above who praised this post...so well written.

The phrase "I'm too old for this" has crossed my lips a number of times, I prefer your more positive spin.

My father could not seem to accept or ask for help outside the family, nor can many 80-90 year old parents I hear about from friends. As has been said, this often leads to greater stress on all concerned. I'm hoping to have the good sense to avoid this scenario. That said, I too dislike the idea of age segregation.

Off to read that article, thanks.
Duchesse said…
LauraH: As we grow older, we draw in, leave the world in small but marked degrees.

As a wonderful geriatric psychiatrist friend told me, "We will age the same as our parents, even if we think we will be climbing Everest." To have a family one love and trusts in the last stretch of life is invaluable. Old age is divided into stages and after 85 or so, as part of the oldest old or attending them, we must enter into a whole other realm of thinking.
sensitive poet said…
Yes, the old are "invisible" to the young- as they were to us when we were young, unless we had been traditionally brought up.
Now that I am almost 70, there are a few strategies I use:
1. I say "thank you" in advance, with a genuine and delighted smile, as if the young person was actually intending to open the door for, offer me their seat etc, and I had just "intercepted" their thoughts.

2. The young make somewhat of a distinction between "mature but vigorous, worthy of admiration" and "old and decrepit, deserving of pity or contempt". Sorry, but that is the way it is. Mature but vigorous would be someone like Christine Lagarde, or Gary Grant (a few years ago), and I won't list examples of the last category (I was one myself, when paralyzed and in a wheel chair, so I know that withering look all too well).

3. Mature and well-care for, shiny silver hair, moisturized even though wrinkled skin, well cared for hands and nails, well-fitting clothes with one up-to-date, seasonal accessory, all convey image of comfort and possibly the impression of wealth. Style secret, you can get last season's accessory on eBay for a song.

4. Most importantly, to encourage good relations between the generations, praise younger people genuinely- "you young women are so strong these days!" - eg in response to someone helping you carry your groceries to your car, "great to see young people like yourself at these concerts" - eg start the conversation with a young person seated next to you, maybe they purchased rush tickets, this is their first time there etc.

These are just a few thoughts, I'd be most interested if you have felt the same way.
Wendy said…
As always, the comments are almost as good as your post. I’m going to practice using your line, “I old enough for this”, but the today’s highlight (for me) was: “I always try to channel Molly Ivins”! Molly Ivins was the BEST.
Duchesse said…
sensitive poet: I love reading your tactics! Re #1, the younger riders on bus or subway are all on their phones :) but sometimes I have said, Could I please sit down? if they are occupying one of the few seats designated for the old, handicapped or pregnant riders.

I certainly agree with keeping ones’s self up. IMO Christine Lagarde, 62, is mature but not old yet, but maybe she is by French standards because she would qualify for retirement benefits. The North American health system generally puts the beginning of old age at 65, many people say 70 and I have friends who insist it is 80.

As for the last point, a sincere compliment to anybody is a kindness. I am brought up a bit short when “for your age” is tacked on but appreciation is far better than the withering looks you endured.

Wendy: Was a toss up between writing that or Ann Richards.
Adele said…
We're really fortunate to have many friends and acquaintances in our age range (I'm 60 and my husband is 68) who are active, engaged, interesting and funs to be with (except when the aches and pains and creaky knees come up in conversation). But I think we're all struggling somewhat to get a handle on what our even older age will look like......because when our folks were our age, they seemed to be somehow "older" than we are now............

Duchesse said…
Adele: I suspect every generation feels they are somehow more vital than the preceding one, and a century ago that was accurate, given advances against a number of degenerative diseases. We now have cataract surgery and knee replacements, and many more effective medications.

But (I keep reminding friends who tell me we don't seem as old as our parents did to us, my parents and their crowd were more active than many of my age now. They fished, canoed, hunted, skated, swam, gardened- not to mention the housework. (I see my mother up on a ladder changing storm windows.) TV entered their lives only in adulthood and they watched very little except for the men who became addicted to football. And when they golfed, no one used a cart.

They did not stick a screen in front of their face like I am doing right now, and poof, two hours goes by. Most of these people lived well into their late 80s and 90s.
Perhaps my view is not a wide, comprehensive enough one but I actually feel for the young people of today in terms of job opportunity, college/university education debt, and what the article portrays about job longevity. Not one of them will have the career benefits that my husband and I have today in our retirement. We are retired educators who loved working with young people and investing in their lives. We are thankful for our own grown sons and their families. And, as we compare notes, we see that their futures are not laid out like ours were with pensions, health insurance, and medical benefits. Yes, those could all blow up tomorrow but we remain strong in our family ties and are blessed with friendships that cross the generations.
Loved reading this post and all comments.,,especially "sensitive poet". Thank you for such pertinent topics.
Duchesse said…
Charlene Hisayasu: I don't think the young have it easy in terms of job security.

At the same time, I think of my father, born in 1094 in Chicago: a two-day weekend was unheard of for working class people. Many of his classmates left formal education after 8th grade, and most after high school. Two World Wars interrupted youth and young adult's prospects (though some benefitted from the GI Bill) So, this "gig economy" is a challenge, but each generation except the cohort coming of age right after WWII had to face precarious employment prospects.

Sounds like, given your remarks about health insurance, you live in the US, where I was born and grew up. Single payer universal health insurance would go a long way toward putting people's minds at ease. I am very happy you look back on your careers with satisfaction and pride; a number of about-to-retire educators I know are fed up. It is great to hear your assessment.
Duchesse...you are correct. U.S. Born -3nd generation Japanese-American. I knew my perspective was not wide enough. Yes, our parents faced hardships galore. It is on their shoulders that we stand. Thank you for your thought-filled reply.
Duchesse, your father pre-dated the Illinois people? http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/625.html

Yes, health insurance makes a huge difference. And thank you for your approach to this complex and difficult topic.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: Ho, typo! My father was born in 1904!
Yes, I figured that out... but I was imagining Pater as some kind of Biblical super-elder.
Venasque said…
I never tell people my age, not because I'm ashamed of it, but because with knowing a person's age come certain assumptions. However many people are old because they've been old their entire lives, which have been spent waiting just to reach the actual age they've always been in their heads and have now reached. Of course no one wants to be around them - they're boring. Be inclusive, interesting, and knowledgeable and people don't notice your age. Look after your physical self - be youthful (not young) in your appearance, get a good haircut, never ever say "I just don't care how I look". All of this contributes to an impression of someone just waiting on the edge of the grave to fall in.

As far as I'm too old - my view is I'm too old for bullsh...and I'm not putting up with it any more and that's been my mantra for a long time.
Duchesse said…
Venasque: We come at it from opposite end but have the same wish. So I tell them my age: this is what all but 70 looks like, and it can look all kinds of ways, but here it is. Assumptions are their own brand of BS. Let them think what they want, I am Old Enough to be my age.
If they start to treat like a dim dearie, I drop that I dated a punk icon whose name is still recognized. 50-plus years ago little did I know I could weapnize a few dates.

The posts with the most