Well, maybe not the pithy sayings we are accustomed to from those little “wit and wisdom” books of the past, but the best part of this blog is the discussion in the comments and in recent months, it appears to be getting more compelling by the day. You guys are a treasure trove of thoughtful ideas to mull over and learn from.
On Tuesday, I used a reader’s comment as a jumping off point for a story titled Another Reader, Another Age Dilemma. And now, I’m using a comment from that post for today’s story.
At the top of his message, Alan G wrote in part:
”Like the majority of you, if not all, somewhere inside there is still a 20-year old alive and well and looking out through these eyes which are being chauffeured around by a body…”
I have been arguing against this kind of shorthand – a 20-year-old inside an aging body – for many years. It’s hard to blame anyone who uses such language to describe our still well-functioning minds as it is an artifact of a profoundly ageist society which, from our cradles, has insisted that only youth has worth.
When we compare ourselves in this manner to young people, we perpetuate (to ourselves as much as the world around us) the false idea that youth is the gold standard of life and we denigrate our value making it easy for everyone else to do so too. We become part of the ageist problem.
Another reader, a few comments above Alan’s, put it more pointedly:
”I find that when someone says that a person is “mentally young” it as offensive as when they say, ‘You don’t look 75!’ My mind is the mind of a 75 year old person. Don’t give me BS!”
Well said, Cab Comp.
After noting the shock of seeing a hand that looks so old he does not recognize it as his own (I know that one well), Alan moves on to the related phenomenon that women, more commonly than men, describe as becoming invisible after a certain age:
”Why does the world seem to be treating me differently as my years go higher?” writes Alan. “Why is no one interested in my opinion any longer within the social networks of our time?
“If I leave a room no one seems to notice I have left. If I enter a room few seem to notice I have arrived. When the greetings are being handed out why does it seem I am always last? There is something terribly amiss in my world.”
Yes, indeedy, there is. Alan concludes:
”I have finally come face to face with the reality of what my body has become. My body has become terribly old and completely out of touch with its owner. I struggle but I fear that I can no longer keep up. I fear that the ‘looking but not seeing’ syndrome is nearing its climatic end.”
Lately, I have come to suspect that if our culture were not so deeply ageist, pressuring us daily to do everything in our power to emulate all-perfect youth, we would not be so shocked when we notice the physical manifestations of our accumulated years and could face the changes with more composure and acceptance.
It would help a great deal if the culture would allow us to talk about what getting old is really like in more places than just this blog. It would have been good to know with greater honesty what old age is like before I got here. If that were so, if we all understood from a young age how becoming old changes us, I suspect elders would not be so easily dismissed.
This is, of course, what is “terribly amiss” in Alan’s world and the worlds of us all. It has not always been thus. In the past and still so in a few pockets of the world, elders are accorded the basic respect due to people of all ages and sometimes, when earned, elders are honored for the knowledge and wisdom they can contribute to their communities.
This is almost universally not true in western developed countries and what Alan – and so many of us – are feeling is the disrespect of having been tossed aside as soon as we can no longer pass as youthful-ish.
After having worked hard throughout life to try to understand, after finally in recent years feeling that I might have an answer or two to contribute, no one wants to listen.
What a waste. I am astonished that most of us are in such good humor much of the time.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Barbara Sloan: Refrigerator Memories