I think we all know that ageism exists. While forty is the new twenty, sixty is apparently still over the hill.
I could tell you so many stories of parents of my generation who have lost their jobs never to be employed again, even if they wanted to. They’re too old, too unskilled, too expensive, too out of touch or so they’re never told as they hear again and again, “we’re sorry but we’re going with another candidate.”
In some ways, it sucks to get older, as I lamented last week, but it’s also a badge of honor. It means you’ve lived through a lot and, most likely, you’ve learned a lot along the way.
For some reason, though, people often feel like once you reach a certain age, it’s time for you to get out of the way and let the beautiful people take over.
Get off the road! You’re too old to drive!
It’s something I’ve heard myself saying when you get behind someone driving 5 miles below the speed limit. But can you really imagine getting older and losing your mobility? Losing the ability to get out and see and connect with the world? Sure, I might choose to take the slower back roads instead of the highway but age isn’t a disease. It’s merely a natural condition of the human body.
I don’t have “real” TV so I miss out on a lot of the live events like the Emmys, the Oscars, and the Grammys. I usually catch the headlines on the internet or read the comments on Facebook. I click through to a few red carpet dress pictures and then go about my normal business.
But this morning, in addition to hearing about Lorde walking away as a big winner, I started reading about a bunch of old country singers getting on stage for a reunion: Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Kris Kristofferson, members of the original country music supergroup The Highwaymen.
Turns out he’s suffering from a condition called pugilista, which basically means he’s been hit in the head too many times and therefore has a pretty selective memory. Actually, sometimes a selective memory is a bit of a gift. But he knows his buddies and he knows his songs and at 77 what a thrill it must be to perform onstage again with a current country star like Blake Shelton.
So Kris is an old coot. And so is Willie and Merle. But that doesn’t make them any less the icons and legends they once were. In fact, I get a bit of a thrill seeing “old people” living their lives to the fullest.
I’ll admit that this kind of attitude get easier for me the older I get. Maybe because I know my time is coming someday.
A few decades ago, when I was a young lass in my 20s, I was traveling quite a bit for my job. I remember so clearly being at an airport and sitting at the gate waiting for my flight to board. As preboarding started, I saw a lot of fuss over one gentleman in a wheelchair. Even the slightest movements seemed like such an effort for him. I found myself unknowingly staring at him, watching him.
I remember feeling a bit horrified at how frail and fragile he was and how difficult the simplest things seemed to be. I don’t think I was feeling disgust or sympathy. I was simply watching, wondering how it must feel to devolve into a shadow of who you once were.
It was at that moment that he looked up at me, as if he knew I was staring all along. As if he knew exactly what the thoughts in my head were. He looked me squarely in the eyes and said, “Someday you’ll be old too.”
I can’t remember my reaction but I’m pretty sure I quickly looked away as if I had never really been staring at him in the first place. But his piercing words have always stayed with me. I try remember to treat people, especially elderly, with kindness, compassion, and, above all, patience. I think they’ve earned it.