I was walking behind a twenty-something–year-old couple who were forced to reduce their fast pace as they approached an elderly man slowly walking in the same direction. Unable to go around him because foot traffic was heavy, they exchanged annoyed expressions, then imitated the elderly gentleman’s halting movements.
Eventually, he turned off on a side street, and they resumed their pace. The young man turned to his girlfriend and said, “When I get that old shoot me.” If he had asked me for help, I would have been delighted to give it—even early.
Loathing of Aging
Aging is viewed by many younger people with the same discomfort experienced when a strange uncle comes uninvited to a family gathering. Despite everyone’s assurance that nobody told Uncle Ralph about the event, there he is, wearing a plaid mothball smelling jacket, a striped shirt, and lime green pants. He combs the few strands of remaining hair across his bald head, and sits in the middle of the room waiting for a simple hello but receives the same amount of attention given to a tasteless bowl of bean dip.
A Fear of Aging
Why are young people so reluctant to understand the process of aging? There is an old saying ‘we fear most that which we will become.’ Aging in the form of Uncle Ralph is standing behind each of us, peeking at the western horizon. Those of us who now face west and anticipate the sunset, understand that aging is neither a bogeyman nor the doddering old fool portrayed in hip films.
Tibetans have a saying, “to get over your fears, bring closer to you that which frightens you the most.” Aging for many young people falls into that category. And because it is not understood, it often is ignored, ridiculed, and in the most egregious of cases, becomes the basis of inadvertent humiliation.
Our slower processing of information is often misinterpreted as a sign that our minds are turning to mush, and a gentler physical pace is believed indicative that our bodies are disintegrating. At sixty, I completed my first triathlon. At sixty-three, I finished my seventh book. At sixty-four, I along with nine “older” friends, hiked for seven days in the high Sierras. At seventy-four, I still run four miles twice a week, sculpt for three hours a day and write for two.
Typical activities for someone my age? Maybe not. But I am sure most seniors can substitute life challenges many of our younger friends could not handle—at least not yet.
Most of us have experienced an incident that makes us wonder how some younger people can get it so wrong. Based on conversations I have had with fellow “old folks,” I have compiled the top ten age-based insults. If you are one of us and have already asked Uncle Ralph to stay, maybe even engaged him in a serious conversation, there is little new here.
But you might want to pass this article on to people who question your judgment, sanity, or value. If you are someone who drives behind us and honks because we drive at the speed limit or slightly below, definitely read on. And if you are an adult child with at least one living parent, read this daily.
TOP TEN INSULTS FOR “OLD FOLKS
1. They are uninformed. Not knowing the names of the latest Oscar nominees does not mean we are uninformed. Uninformed is not understanding why Korea was partitioned. Though we forget names, we remember the complexities of living those who are younger are still struggling to comprehend.
2. Once the body goes, the mind follows. Moving slowly does not mean we have lost our marbles. Check out any book written by Stephen Hawking.
3. They’ve lost the capacity to be intimate. Our ability to love is not diminished by age, nor is it confined to what happens below the belt. Intimacy with age can take on many different forms.
4. They’re going deaf, so speak loudly and slowly. We may not hear well, but we know how to listen and more importantly when to remain silent.
5. They’re always cranky. We do get cranky. Do not take it personally. Physical pain and understanding the inevitability of aging have that effect.
6. The elderly need guidance. Do not treat us as children, no matter how much our bodies are failing or how long it takes to process information. We may not think as quickly as we once did, but the quality of our deliberations and depth of our insights are undiminished.
7. They crave dependency. We do not become dependent to make your life miserable. We are more reluctant to ask for help than people are willing to give it.
8. They can’t make decisions on their own. We have made important decisions throughout our lives. Even some—believe it or not—that had a very positive effect on others. Allow us the dignity of deciding how to live our lives.
9. Their knowledge is outdated. In this fast-paced digital, cyber-connected, social-mediatized world, you may believe that our knowledge is irrelevant. But our wisdom, just as it has been since the beginning of time, is not. It comes from living.
10. They behave strangely. Our attitudes and behaviors are the products of our history. So, when we say or do something you do not understand, do not dismiss it out of hand, cut us some slack. After all dudes, WE’RE OLD.