There’s always an “aha!” moment when people realize they’ve moved up into the next age bracket. For some it’s qualifying for a senior discount at the movies. For others it’s perusing the 55+ menu at Denny’s. For still others it’s being called “Mr.” or “Mrs.,” to which many reply in indignation, “Call me Stan. Mr. Whitaker is my father.” For me it was initially the announcement during a heat wave that the elderly should stay indoors. My first thought was, “That’s so nice. Our mayor really cares about her senior citizens.” My second thought was, “My God, she’s talking to me!” Now, of course, it’s the oft-repeated mantra that people of a certain age are more vulnerable to Covid-19 and so have to be even more conscientious than the rest of society about sheltering at home.
Let’s linger for a moment on the implications of finding that, chronologically speaking, you fall into that dreaded category, “the elderly.” I mean, who embraces that label? Most of us go into it kicking and screaming. After all, it has so many connotations, all of them negative, and it doesn’t square with our image of ourselves as vibrant, attractive, fully functioning members of society. Inwardly and often outwardly we vigorously protest that yes, age-wise, we may qualify for Social Security, but in every other way we’re not like the rest of them. I love the New Yorker cartoon in the front of this book in which a woman in an outlandish mod outfit tells the frump standing next to her, “I used to be old, too. But it wasn’t my cup of tea.” It isn’t my cup of tea, either, but here I am, nonetheless.
With the realization that I had gotten into in this new category, and wasn’t getting out, came a whole host of other acknowledgements. The U.S. Government was never going to put my face on a postage stamp—or a Wanted poster, either. I was never going to have a highway named after me. (Each day when I drive over the freeway I wonder who was that Sgt. Randolph Titus, anyway, and what did he do to merit an overpass?). I have accepted that I’ll never be a female “first,” as in the first woman to fly solo over the Atlantic (darn that Amelia Earhart) or win the Nobel Prize in chemistry (not to be petty, but Marie Curie did have a lot of help from Pierre), or swim the English Channel (although those in the know say my butterfly stroke is truly awesome).
My husband always protests that his grandparents were old, we’re not old. Oh, no? Then how come we wake up each morning eager to discover the ailment du jour: Will it be leg cramp, trigger finger, lower back pain, frozen shoulder, or trick knee? At least we’re still active, we reassure ourselves, albeit with a little help from our friends such as Aleve. Sixty is the new forty we’re told, yet I don’t notice any forty-somethings rushing to trade places with us.
Hopefully, I’ll be among the “elderly” for a long time, so I’m making my peace with it. I’m trying to give myself credit for what I’ve accomplished and forgive myself for what I haven’t. As one ancient Chinese artist wrote, “I drew the best line I could that day.” And, lo and behold, I’m still dipping my pen into the inkwell.