In What Are Old People For?, Dr. William H. Thomas notes that
“…elders are pressured to keep up the pace, to continue to achieve and society’s highest praise for old people is reserved for those who most resemble adults in their appearance and behavior. And when they no longer are capable of holding up that pretense, they are made invisible to the culture…” [emphasis added]
Dr. Thomas was referring to the warehousing of elderly in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, but long before old people are ready for that indignity, they are made invisible in dozens of small ways every day.
Maria writes about this at her blog, Silver Fox Whispers and she was gracious enough to send me two real-life examples:
“We had dinner with friends and after desert, the men moved into the living room. Two younger men became engaged in a lively discussion. My husband who was sitting with them felt he had something pertinent to add. He tried three times to interject an opinion. Each time he was ignored. The guys went on as if he wasn't there. He finally got up and walked away. They didn't even realize he left the room. He felt less than valued.”
“I was visiting my daughter…There had been a block party the week before and her partner mentioned it at dinner. Then she got a few photos taken the night of the party [and] passed them right over my head, so to speak, to share with other friends closer in age to her at the table. I was hurt and I was damned if I was going to say, ‘Please may I see them, too.’ The photos went around the table and back to the partner, who then put them away. I silently fumed the night away.”
After a certain age, these invisible moments come ‘round more frequently. Waiting on line to buy a toasted bagel recently, the counter kid’s eyes passed right by me to the next man as though I wasn’t there. It’s not the first time it happened and it won’t be the last.
Increasing invisibility is one of the downsides of aging that reveal how little interest in or value the culture places on old people. It’s something we share with kids, as Shel Silverstein once pointed out:
Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the old man, “I do that too.”
The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
“I do that too,” laughed the old man.”
Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”
“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
“I know what you mean,” said the old man.