Some folks march with heads held high into their senior years. That seemed more than I could manage. When I turned 60 and could pass for less, i forsook senior price tickets at the movie theater or museum, even stretched that out until I realized that vanity had closed out opportunities I was dumb to miss. (In New York City a bonus comes your way at 65: you get half price fare on subways and buses, a bait that's hard to pass by. By that time it's pointless to pretend not to be a senior, anyway.)
I didn't set out to fool the whole world. Came birthday number 60 and, being single, I figured I'd give myself a birthday party. A couple of dozen friends gathered on a November evening at a small French restaurant uptown in Manhattan where the chef (and his occasionally sober boyfriend) put together delicious food and wine. That set in motion self-sponsored birthday dinners every five years thereafter. They've been held at different restaurants, including one at the home of a niece and her husband in Brooklyn. The cast has included new faces and many familiar ones -- and music -- and the parties have blunted the need to rip another half decade from the calendar...for me and others.
Single or not, 50 seems to be when one begins to think about aging (and when AARP gladly accepts your membership); 60 is when it moves into full gear. By that age I was hearing "Sir" from a young person, and awhile later stopped balking about it. Now that I use a cane, people -- even hurried New Yorkers -- are holding a door or offering a seat on the bus. Sometimes I thank the person and take the seat, sometimes shake my head and, as if offended, say, "No, I'm fine." The person offering the seat, by the way, is most often female.
Living in Manhattan, where walking is practiced by most of the population, one sees scores of elderly folks with canes or walkers or wheelchairs or scooters moving around as blithely as if they were mobilized by their own two feet, solo. To me that's a fine sight. NYC buses give some help, as they now have slides that open from the front door and land flat on the sidewalk, allowing a walker or wheelchair to board -- in only a minute or two. It's a great courtesy and wipes out an excuse to stay home.
Seniors benefit from discounts at many museums, no small perk with entry in some places at $20 or more (rendering those places inaccessible to the very people who should go). That's a perk not universal. On a recent trip, in Paris, I queued up at the Musee D'Orsay and asked the ticket salesperson about a senior price. "We don't have senior prices," the lady grumbled.
Fortunately, senior housing and organizations built on supporting seniors keep approximate pace with the elderly growing population. If you happen to be both single and a senior, there are places that welcome you where you're likely to find a lot of fellows. (If you're a senior gay man, there are, also, dating sites to match younger and older gay men. Age there is a plus.)
With now ample experience as a senior, I've concluded that the folks who seem to do best with aging are those who put the gear in "go" and keep on keeping on. Plus those who discover a new gear, a new interest, and don't focus on the calendar. A sense of humor is a great asset; so is the acceptance of occasional loneliness. It helps too if as a senior, you're patient with younger people and forgive yourself for things you did earlier that may seem embarrassing to remember. And it seems like a good idea not to dwell a lot on times past that should be shelved away. I've found that it's easy to glamorize some things in the past that were less good than we remember.
Sayings like "Seventy is the new Sixty" are more than sayings...if we make them so. George Burns, who lived to 100, willed a nice slogan to hold on to: "You have to get older, but you don't have to get old."
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Stanley Ely writes about aging as a single man in his new book, "Life Up Close, a Memoir" in paperback and ebook.