The effort to dignify old age by putting a shiny new name on it -- "senior citizen" -- offends me, or has ever since I reached 60 awhile ago. I rather like being a grumpy old man who speaks his mind, but I dislike being thought of as a genial senior citizen walking into the sunset patting the heads of small children and puppies with a beneficent smile. There is a dignity to being old -- at least there was when I was growing up, an association of wisdom and toughness that still clings to it (although newspapers often treat old age as a disease because from time to time bad things happen to old people). Our family dog, Sam the Lab, does not look up at me respectfully, paying homage to my age, nor does Byron my Abby cat. Nor do my grand-kids. They look up at me lovingly, paying homage to the love I have for them and to the pleasures we share when we are together.
If truth be told I am a senior-alien as opposed to a senior-citizen: born in this country but not born a senior -- indeed most of my life has been spent as a junior if we must belong to a high school class -- nor have I ever taken out senior-citizenship papers, unless SS and a bus pass qualify. If anything I keep a dual citizenship with two passports, and one I recommend to all my friends -- one that allows you to enter the world of the young and middle aged -- in my case that of my sons and their children -- and one what allows me to speak plainly with my contemporaries about our shared problems -- my closest friends. But I won't willingly allow myself to be swept into some category or defined by my age. Like Popeye I Yam what I Yam -- and so are you. If these are the golden years why are we told to take Centrum Silver vitamins? Am I silver or gold? Neither. To myself I am just plain brass and I intend to remain so until the end -- which I hope is some time in the distant future. I love life and my work as much, if not more today, than I did when I was a wisp of a lad. You have a choice as you age. You can either become more fearful or fearless. Strange but fearless is the safer choice. Being passionate about what you believe, be it politics or art, does not diminish you as you age but refreshes you.
When will people understand that we all share this world for a very short time and that the breakdown into age categories, skin color, sexual preference, etc. is so arbitrary that it is simply dumb? It is the work of advertising agencies who want to appeal to a certain demographic to sell some product -- focusing on the young spenders in the belief that they will throw money at anything. I know people who are young at ninety and others old at nine. We all do. Most of us earn our age, so the attempt to put a new coat of silver paint over it by calling us seniors is demeaning. Old is not a four-letter word -- it is clearly three -- beautiful in its simplicity and its antiquity. Old can mean that one has mastered one's art or craft, that one has a certain insight into life -- a long view denied to the young. My parents grew old and nobody dared take that from them by trying to make them seniors. How often efforts to avoid the facts of life by renaming them only makes them worse -- if not plain silly. I suppose it all comes from a culture that is so fearful of growing older -- and we so often hate what we fear -- that old age is to be gilded or silvered over but not allowed to be what it is -- a great time to be alive -- but occasionally a pain in the hip or a lower extremity. And I am not ready to be exhibited on Antiques Roadshow. Unlike a piece of old china I am worth more to myself because I have a few chips in me, having lived through earthquakes, ill health, loss of loved ones, failures, and hardest of all, some success. I know that I am uniquely blessed with my wife of nearly 62 years still with me and a family that lives close by, and I do not take that for granted. Now back to work on my new play. Right after I take Sam the Lab for a walk.
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