Old

Why can’t I call someone old without them cringing? Why is it an insult? And why does everyone pretend to agree when someone says, “70!? That’s not old!” And then proceeds to tell a story of some 94 year old they saw water-skiing on a juicing-machine infomercial?

People could embrace the greatness of having aged. – The intrigue of seeing multiple generations grow up. – The wonders of dramatic world events, shifting culture, changing technology and personal growth that have come about in their many decades on the earth. – The insight of having to live for the present rather than always working towards some distant future goal. – The wealth of a lifetime of stories, memories and friendship.

But instead, they deny they have those things. They put on face creams, dye their hair, or have wrinkles tucked away, out of sight, to hide their true selves. They refer to their similarly-aged friends as young. They steadfastly shy away from things that are only meant for “old” people. – Like reading glasses, canes, white hair, knitting, afternoon naps, and senior discounts.

Why such a negative connotation to the word?

When I think of “old” I think of classic books that have stood the test of time. – Houses and buildings built strong enough to last for centuries. – Wise old professors who adore their studies, students and colleagues. – Sweet ladies who offer you iced tea and cookies in exchange for a little conversation and helping them move something heavy. And of people who are at peace with themselves. They have survived. Still trudging along, often with a wake of contentment behind them.

I think, when old people who don’t want to be called old hear the word “old”, they think of an entirely different group. They think of unsuccessful old people. Old people who are bitter. – Who think the world isn’t what it used to be, that it’s falling apart, and that young people are to blame. People in poor health. People in need of help. People who are scared.

But being old doesn’t have to mean any of those things. In my mind, it doesn’t at all. “Old” is an empowering adjective. It alludes to a greatness and a peak, not a demise.

Our culture venerates youth and novelty so much, and almost entirely dismisses the worth of the last decades of life, that it’s now almost an insult to refer to the old as “old”. I brave the politically incorrect waters, however, and call a spade a spade and an old person old. I watch the recoil of horror as the syllable slips past my lips and the old person with whom I’m conversing begins to protest their status. But what always follows is a worthwhile discussion on phases of life, our cultural obsession with youth, and how, when we’re honest, it really is a whole different experience to be 70 than it is to be 50.

I’m disheartened that people have such a dismal view of the last decades of life that they don’t even want to acknowledge that they, or others, actually live through a distinct and worthwhile epoch in their final years. I, for one, look forward to embracing my final steps and enjoying that unique part of my life. You won’t find me pretending to be something I’m not.

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