When, If Not Now?
Age is not important unless you’re a cheese.
— Helen Hayes
Lately as I’ve been taking walks in my community, I’ve noticed that people often go out of their way to avoid me. When they see me coming, they cross the street. I try to be friendly, and wave and smile, but as soon as they see me, they hurry away.
Sometimes I wear a hoodie; does it scare them? Maybe it’s the wrinkles on my face. Or my grey hair. I feel like they judge me, and they don’t even know me.
What do they think I will do to them? Talk to them? Ask them how they’re doing? Perhaps they see a woman of a certain age and assume that I’ve got nothing but time on my hands and will waste that time on them.
It makes me think about all the ways older people are marginalized and avoided and how I’ve been guilty of it myself.
I admit that I have disparaged older drivers who are in the left lane, holding up traffic. Just like I did the other day and wondered why all the younger drivers honked and glared. Some of them screamed. At least one of them provided me with a one finger salute to communicate his displeasure. I chose to interpret it as his concern for me navigating amidst the many maniacs on the road, himself included.
Just last week I waited for what seemed to be an unnecessarily long period of time in the checkout line at the supermarket. The person in front was holding up progress and I was irate. I’ve got places to go, people! I asked the woman in front of me what was taking so long, and she replied that the customer was writing a check. After smoothing my ruffled feathers, I saw an elderly woman climb onto a bus for the local assisted living facility, and realized she was out doing her weekly shopping and getting some cash. Time to curb my ageism.
There was the time several years ago that I found myself at a Moody Blues concert filled with grey haired fans. Who else but older folks would follow a band that has been around for 40 years? Yet, I needed to check my attitude at the door about the number of “old people in black leather jackets” as I removed my own ebony leather and slung it over the chair. Note that I haven’t worn that jacket since then, and it’s not because of animal rights.
What I’m learning about attitudes toward aging as I see myself through other people’s eyes, as well as mine, is that we are all likely guilty of ageism, because we are part of a culture that worships youth. Comments we may make such as “It’s hell getting old” and “Aging is a bitch” reinforce the stereotypes that society foists on us. As part of this brigade of aging folks, wouldn’t it serve us better to view ourselves more positively and with compassion, while recalling that our younger years weren’t necessarily a picnic?
I know for myself I was too busy and harried to appreciate my taut chin, smooth skin and pep in my step. I lamented that I was short, that I wasn’t well-endowed, and my voice was shrill on an answering machine. Such wasted notions and pitiless proclamation of myself as a person. Yes, youth is wasted on the young, so why not let aging be our chance to kick up our heels and enjoy the lives we’ve created for ourselves? If not now, then when?
Hello, I’m Janet, career coach, writer, workshop leader.
I help women create their best lives through personal writing.