I was talking to Marge yesterday.
She says people are always trying to “help” and “assist” her. Marge is built like a brick mailbox. Last year during a big snow she went sledding. “What the $%&#?!?” she says. “I don’t need ‘help.’ I need to be seen and included.”
Marge is 91.
I’m only 60, but I have noticed a phenomenon. It seems that once you cross a certain age threshold, you become part of a large, worldwide wall of lesser, annoying humans whose chief characteristics are seen to be xenophobia, general helplessness, and the inability to text.
Hey, I text up a storm, people. All right, it’s with my index finger, but I text, okay??
People my age are also ringing up your groceries, sweating in hot yoga, voting progressive, and trying to undo the damage done by previous generations. Including ours.
The few times you see us on a sitcom, we’re usually a punchline. And watch some national-brand commercials. Do you see anyone over, say, 35? “Arrest aging with with new ‘Retino-Peelo-BegoneOldCoot’ cream by L’Oreal!” coos a woman who probably doesn’t even remember the Macarena.
There are much older folks on the nostalgia channels like meTV and Grit. They’re excitedly trying to talk members of their coffee klatsch into buying Colonial Penn Life Insurance or frothing at the mouth over their Craftmatic Adjustable Bed.
Where are the ones in the middle? Say, ages 40 to 70?
We’re not all one wrinkly, age-spotted, mass-like geriatric Borg. We don’t suddenly change from a 30-something soccer mom to someone on the floor shrieking “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”
I think aging Americans are subconsciously grouped into a collective befuddled lump because people don’t want to acknowledge where they themselves are headed. And let’s face it, we’re all ̶ the lucky ones, anyway ̶ headed there.
A decade ago I quit dyeing my salt-and-pepper hair because 1. I got tired of my bathroom looking like a bowl of chocolate pudding had exploded and 2. I just didn’t want to lay out the money for a professional job.
So I’m at work one day – an after-school arts program ̶ and I bend down in front of a 14-year-old to tie my shoelace. “Did you JUST go gray, or what?!” he says in shock and disgust, backing away. “Thanks, Mario,” I say. “You really know how to treat a gal.”
Here’s the thing, though ̶ at Sitar recently, I run into him again. He’s taller, and older, and I’m definitely grayer. He’s been to China and other countries a few times, and he’s blossomed, and he has magnificent dreadlocks, and he practically picks me up off the floor and twirls me around. And we talk and talk and talk.
He sees the person now, not the age. He’s experienced other cultures, and maybe he’s noticed the way they acknowledge and value their older population.
Too bad Madison Avenue can’t see that. Frankly, they’re ignoring a gold mine, but that’s another column.
Every once in a while young baggers at the grocery store will wink at me condescendingly and say, “there ya go, ‘young’ lady!” as if we’re in on some kind of irresistible joke together. Then they’ll ask with concern if I need help getting my one bag containing a box of Cheez-its and a grapefruit out to the car.
They mean well. But I wish they could understand that the fit, energetic person standing before them ̶ the person who is enjoying life more than ever, and who has adventures of all types with all ages ̶ is simply another human a little further on the journey than they are. A person who, like Marge says, needs to be “seen and included.”
And I want to say, “I was you. Someday, you’ll be me. This is what aging looks like. It’s not so bad; it can be kind of wonderful.”
And also, “what the $%&#?!”