The subject of age has been bandied about for some time now—and oft times not in a good way. Words like: old, senile, not all there, frail, and doddering are sometimes used to describe those who are privileged to reach their seventh or eighth decade of life.
I am taking a writer’s liberty to substitute the word “privileged” for the word “age.” The negative perception that growing older, while certainly preferable to the alternative, is a terrible process. Does that make sense? And to add insult to injury, those of us who are privileged are easily dismissed. Well, what a bunch of poppycock!
The two top contenders for the presidency of the United States are into their seventh and eighth decades of life: President Biden is 81 and Donald Trump is 77. And, yes, many have said one is “too” old and the other is old—they are four years apart! This view is echoed on the debate stage by a young aggressive upstart.
I, too, have been viewed differently because of my “privileged” status. After incurring a severe wrist sprain, my physician referred me to a physical therapist. My physician and the physical therapist conferred over the phone. I was told that the physical therapist would see me immediately.
I sat in the waiting room for an inordinate period of time watching patients entering and leaving. I approached the reception desk and described to the receptionist why I was there. She looked at me for a long moment and beeped the doctor.
A young man entered the reception area and asked: “Are you Celia Marszal Iannelli?”
“I am so sorry I wasn’t expecting you!”
“Didn’t Dr — call you?”
“Yes, but I expected a much older woman.”
“Huh? My date of birth is—.”
Fumbling and bumbling over his words, he was in essence saying, that he was expecting a frail old woman. I vacillated between being flattered and incensed.
Recently I had two routine scans. A young woman got me from the waiting area, looking at the chart and not at me she asked:
“Dear, do you need help getting up on the table.”
I proceeded to jump up on the table. I recognize that she was being considerate, however her next words:
“You are in great shape for your age” rankled me. What shape am I supposed to be in?
Elder-speak is rampant in health care. Medical staff when speaking to older adults use oversimplified language, terms of endearment (dear, honey and sweetie. ) Most irritating is the use of a tone of voice for a child.
It goes without saying that many of us privileged folks do have some health issues. But to be viewed as out-of-touch, less productive and stuck in our ways is insulting. How in the world did you think we got to be privileged?
We sure didn’t get here by porch- or couch-sitting, eating cheesecake and watching daytime dramas all day. If you are in doubt, check out our local gyms. Many of us privileged work out to keep their bodies flexible. Many of us work our brains by learning something new, attending lectures and local events.
If we need inspiration, here are a few musicians who are privileged and still touring:
Bruce Springsteen, 74; Cher, 77; Dolly Parton, 77; Mick Jaeger, 80; Paul McCarthy 81; Bob Dylan, 82,; and Ringo Starr, 83.
These icons dispel the myths and stereotypes of aging, don’t you agree?
Traditionally, Asian culture venerated the elderly for their decades of acquired insights and wisdom. Here in the United States, we do not share the same respect. Instead, we throw word bombs and speak to older people like they are children.
The outcry that the two presidential candidates are too old to serve our country is contrasted by the Dalai Lama. At age 87 he remains a revered figure in the Eastern Tradition and his advanced years is seen as his great transcendent strength.
Those of us who are privileged should act to rally against stereotypes, challenge any ageism jabs that prick us. We need to advocate for ourselves.
Folks, aging is indeed a privilege denied to many. I suggest we take to heart the words of Dylan Thomas: “Don’t go gently into that goodnight…rage, rage, against the dying light.”
We can’t stop getting older, but we don’t have to be old.
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