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While taking care of official business, the clerk behind the desk was required to check my birth certificate against other legal documents. She looked up and asked me to verbally repeat my birthdate.

Surprised, I answered: “November 28…. (Y’all don’t think I’m gonna give up the year!)

She looked down at her papers then up at me for a long moment. Then said: “Wow! You look good…for your age.”

I replied somewhat quizzically: “You look good for your age too!”

The thirty-something clerk seemed taken aback. I suppose some folks ‘would feel flattered. I find these kinds of comments carry the odious odor of ageism—and it happens every day.

Most of the folks who make these comments believe they are being nice. However, most ageist comments are dressed up as compliments.

Why is it a surprise that folks of a certain age can look good? Is there a nameless sense in society or worse still, in ourselves, that we are on the downhill slide?

My boyfriend, Karl, (yes, gals of a certain age have them) and I went to the movies to see Bohemian Rhapsody. We both love the group Queen. While exiting the theater, Karl and I began singing “We Are the Champions” (a song from the movie.)

A young couple was exiting in front of us. They stopped and turned around.

The guy looked stunned and said: “You are so adorable!”

The gal chimed in: “Surprised you know the music.”

“Why’s that? We love rock.” Karl said, in genuine puzzlement.

The young man began squirming and stammered: “People your age, ah, well… don’t….”

Trying to put the young man out of his misery, I laughed and finished the sentence for him. “We do —and we kiss too!”

Karl planted a kiss on my lips in front of the movie theatre. And that was that.

Folks, the you-look-good-for-your-age-adorable-cute thing, gets my goat. Babies are adorable, hamsters are cute. Presidential candidate Joe Biden is sometimes referred to as Uncle Joe. Is he being depicted as an elder statesman or a goofy but lovable uncle?

Does anyone call Tina Turner cute? No, of course not. She is a knock-out at 79 and still singing and dancing to “Proud Mary.”

I wouldn’t call television’s Judge Judy adorable. I would venture to guess she is a force to be reckoned with. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at 86 years old is a well-respected — not adorable — extraordinary woman who dared to bring gender equality and other issues to the forefront. President Trump holds the title (among other things) as the oldest sitting president in history taking office at 70 years old.

Three of the top candidates in the Democratic field can break his record. Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren would be the oldest presidents in history if elected.

So, what’s the big deal about age? More to the point: Are we unwittingly participants in the stigma of ageism? I attended a 70th birthday party that featured black balloons and crepe paper. We were asked to bring “getting old” cards or joke gifts about aging. Among other silly gifts he received a bottle labeled Viagra.

How many times have you described minor forgetfulness as a “senior moment?” or CRS (can’t remember sh*t.) News flash: Folks of all ages have these moments.

A man of a certain age admires or worse still dates a younger woman, he is deemed a dirty old man. A woman is a cougar if she is dating a younger man. Don’t you find this demeaning?

As a retired health care professional, I witnessed many physicians direct comments about a parent, who is of sound mind, at the children.

Speaking of our well-intentioned children, common interactions include but are not limited to: Dad are you able to drive all that distance? Mom, you’re getting older, it’s time we talk to a lawyer to protect your assets. In lawyer-speak, it means put the assets in the kid’s name. (A clarification: My sons read my columns and have never suggested any of these scenarios.)

If you are uncomfortable with patronizing language or your kids trying to run your life, speak up, for heaven’s sake! Aging is not a disease; it’s a privilege denied to many. However, succumbing to ageism can erode our self-confidence.

The poet R.M. Rilke writes: “You are not too old and it’s not too late.” Folks, like our hard-won battles against racism, sexism and the other isms, it’s time to recognize ageist speak and behavior.

Look into the mirror of truth to discover who is perpetuating the myth of ageism, the naysayers or us?

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Celia Marszal-Iannelli
Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in 'retirement' — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.