Chronological age is an issue from earliest childhood. When we are very young, we are eager to be older and when grownups asked our age then, we held up the number of fingers that matched our years and proudly added “and a half” as soon as we could.
But by the time I reached my teens, in the mid-1950s, I had learned that “a lady never tells her age” and that to ask adults how old they are is rude. These were the first indications that getting older is not what it was cracked up to be when I was five.
Through the ensuing decades, that message was reinforced at every turn in life until it became a given that growing old is the worst offense anyone can commit against the culture.
Many people lie about their age. I remember being surprised, when I was researching Nancy Reagan for an interview when she was First Lady, to discover that her “official” published age had been shorted by four or five years of her real age. Why would it matter how old the wife of a president is? And given our culture's extreme prejudice in favor of youth, how can five years matter after age forty anyway? You're still "too old" according to the youth and beauty police.
And so, when I started Time Goes By, I resolved to state my real age every time it is appropriate. Someone has to take a stand that age is a natural development of living and it is time to get it out of the closet.
Now comes the current AARP Bulletin, that organization which purports to advocate for the largest number of people older than 50, with a story about hiding our age. Pamela Redmond Satran defends lying about her age because:
“…it becomes a yardstick by which other people measure you. People immediately use it to gauge how good you look, how much you’ve achieved, how healthy you are, and what more the world can expect from you before you join that age-free cohort in the sky.
“I don’t want to tell my age because I don’t want my life to be judged by anybody else’s timetable.”
And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Ms. Satran goes along with the ageism of the culture, allowing others to judge her by such an arbitrary number, and she urges the rest of us to lie too. That AARP, whose raison d’etre is to defend the rights of older people, would publish this piece is disheartening and perpetuates the culture’s aversion to age.
Nothing will change - age discrimination in the workplace will continue unchallenged, old people will remain invisible, bad jokes about incontinence will go on being the staple of lazy comedians, and fear of getting older will afflict everyone – until we, older people, refuse to be judged on the number of our years alone.
One way to thwart that judgment is to stand up to our real ages. Let younger people become accustomed to us as we really are. I’m getting smarter, more experienced and I’m learning new things every day – just like when I was younger. There is no way this could happen without getting older.
So I sing it loud and I sing it clear: I am 64 (and a half). Anybody got a problem with that?