“Well, there is magic in the air!”
My Lyft driver greeted me with enthusiasm. Her last ride had dropped off at the same terminal and door I was waiting at—a gig economy mini miracle.
Little did she know MAGIC really was in the air for me. I had just landed from spending a week working on the MAGIC (Multi-Ability, multi-Generational, Intentional, Communities) pilot project.
“Where you coming in from?” she asked me.
“Evansville, Indiana,” I replied.
“Just a visit then?”
“Nope, coming home. Was out there for work.”
“Oh, what’s it like out there?”
“Pretty cool. College town. Quite a few alumni have stuck around and opened local businesses. There is a sense things are possible there. Everyone is really nice and friendly.”
“So are you a professor then?”
I told her not exactly, then pivoted. I did teach a class that week, and had guest lectured in several others. I guess I was technically an adjunct professor? I told her about my background in psychology and how I do a lot of work with aging and ageism. I rambled for way too long. I’m exceedingly terrible at describing what I do.
Finally, she saved me from myself: “So you’re an advocate.”
I told her she was right. She congratulated me and commented on how there were so many young people in San Francisco. She quickly added that she loves young people, loves being around them, but sometimes feels like they don’t know how to act around her.
San Francisco is known for attracting young people. The city is obsessed with worshiping youth to the point trying to defeat aging, youthful blood transfusions, so-called aging cures, cryogenics and more are just the headline worthy tip of the iceberg. I was shocked to discover that census data does not back this perception up. In fact, the data shows that 14.8% of San Franciscans are over 65 compared with 15.2% nationally, not a striking difference. Our problem is not that we don’t have older adults. They are here. So why don’t we see them?
“Today is actually my birthday,” my Lyft driver continued. “I am 68.”
I told her happy birthday, that 68 is an awesome age to be. She replied that she normally doesn’t tell people her age, because they often treat her differently once they find out.
We talked about ageism: sometimes the most ageist people are older adults who unconsciously speak disparagingly of themselves and their peers. (Check your own implicit age bias here) She said she feels assumptions are placed on her for being 68 years old, that she is judged for going to certain trendy bars and restaurants, doing stereotypically young activites and wearing fashionable fitting clothes. We talked about why it matters that people of different ages hang out together, starting with the obvious exchange of wisdom for wonder. We mused about how “aging gracefully” falls short when we set unrealistic expectations on what “graceful” means. We concluded that the well-worn phrase “age is just a number” doesn’t honor the life that has been lived. We ended up with more questions than answers.
I had spent the previous week with people dedicated to figuring out how to build inclusive communities, no longer segregated by age and ability. It was invigorating. There’s real momentum in Evansville. But my ride home from the airport showed me how important this work is in communities across the country, including my own. That’s why I’m so excited to see what comes of the MAGIC pilot project and where it will go next.
At the end of our ride, my driver asked me what I’d wish for her 68th birthday.
“I wish for you to celebrate each year you have lived,” I responded. “The joys and the sorrows. Celebrate all that you are that has come with age, and all that you are that has nothing to do with your age. Know that your value comes from so much more than how many times you have circled the sun.”