This Week in Elder News: 12 April 2008
Why is Noise the Default Public Behavior?

Intimations of Mortality II

Last week, I posted a story titled Intimations of Mortality about little moments that occur marking one’s passage through life, and I asked readers if they had experienced such moments.

The nearly 30 responses ranged from funny to wry to sweet to ironic - piquant anecdotes, mini-milestones, if you will, on our roads from youth to aged.

Then, along comes Susanne (no blog link or email address; there never are from such people) to throw cold water on our game:

“Is it just me, or is all of this whining and lamenting defeating the whole purpose of this website?

“I have had the same or similar experiences as all of the above. It goes with the territory. I have never really thought about it. Too many other, more serious things to think about or be concerned about, i.e., ageism, discrimination in the workplace, health, etc. I am not tooting my horn and am certainly not unique. There are millions of others who think the same.

“Stop being so sensitive about being addressed as "ma'am, sir, lady." In most cases, I don't think there is any bad intent. If there is, then they are the idiots. Do you remember addressing older people the same way when you were young? I do.”

This women needs to find her sense of humor. There is not a single whine or lament in the entire post and comments. We were just having a little fun, tellin’ our tales and laughing at the speed bumps life sometimes throws our way.

Not that there isn’t a serious point or two underlying these stories. In a culture that defies anyone to believe youth is not the gold standard of life, we all are brought up short when it is pointed out to us, particularly for the first time, that we have left behind one and entered a new stage of life.

There are some, perhaps Susanne is one of them, who believe outward appearance is not important, and to the degree that such an attitude allows one to be content in one’s own skin - whatever it looks like - they are to be applauded. But others’ perception of us can be valuable, even crucial .

When we are children, we chafe at the boundaries our parents set. “No, you cannot cross the street alone.” “Eat your vegetables.” “No computer games until you finish your homework.” These rules are set because we are not old enough yet to know what is good for us. Adults know to enforce these rules because they can see we are short and our bodies not fully developed - physical signals to be protective of us.

We revel in our teen and young adult bodies - strong, supple, capable of almost anything. The young and the old ask us for help then because they can see how fit we are.

More years add gravitas to our appearance and people, who can see that we have some experience now, take us more seriously. They entrust us with their money, the education of their children and with their healthcare - and we are empowered by their trust to take on responsibilities and obligations consistent with our age.

At some point after that, we are hit for the first time with one of those intimations-of-mortality moments. We know then, or should, that it is time to begin to confront our impermanence.

How others perceive us calls attention to the changing priorities of the seasons of life and prompts us to take new positions, when the time arrives, among the generations.

The boy who referred to me as "lady" meant no disrespect nor did I take it that way. But it was a wake-up call that I had passed beyond youthfulness and in the world we live in, getting older often removes options that younger people are granted without question. That is why people fight so desperately against appearing old.

In a perfect world, age would be as acceptable and respected as youth. That it is not leads to the sometimes funny incidents we shared with one another last week when someone unexpectedly reminds us that it may be time to move on to the next stage in our lives.

Susanne is right that there are serious issues of aging to be concerned with. We discuss them here a lot and at length and we will continue to do so. But there is also time for some fun and sometimes the fun, as in the case of last week’s post and comments, can illuminate our lives.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Edna Henke tells of a nightmare experience at a camp ground titled In the Still of the Night.]



My wife Vicki and I still cringe a little at the sir and mam thing. The most telling moment for me was when the owner of a company at which I was interviewing for a job continually called me sir during the interview.

Guess what, I didn't get the job!

At some point (in my case right now) you do have to get over it and take it all in with a sense of humor.

I think your sourpuss commenter might not have seen the funny side of getting older.

It is unfortunate but a lot of folks are feeling some very negative effects from their obvious maturity in the workplace.

I refuse to let the youngsters get me down. Hell, if Al Gore is right they may all be up to their eyeballs in Seawater when I'm gone anyway.

How does Sir sound with a mouth full of seawater? "Shluuurrrr"


Bette Davis said. "Getting old ain't for sissies." I agree. Someone else said, "He who laughs, lasts." Both have proved true for me. Ms. Julia needs to be less critical and not take life so seriously. I, for one, have been laughing at adversity for a very long time and will continue to do so until I go to meet my Maker.

I think having a sense of humor-- at any age but most especially when old-- is one of the things that most helps with the negative. If you laugh when a joint hurts or you can't do something you once did, it changes its meaning. If someone is serious all the time, I don't think it can be healthy. Laughter is good medicine and a smile is healing.

Let them call me what they please - I know what I am . A 59 year old bull of a man ! LOL

Rain, you are SO right! A sour old person is the devil's crowning glory.

Still, I must fight against it on a regular basis. It is so easy to slip into habits that are never examined.

Patrick O'Brian, described a sour old Admiral in one of his Aubrey-Maturin** books that has stuck with me...

"... the man had become nothing but a set of pompous attitudes, with all the humanity removed..."

We've all known 'em, and they are not people you want to associate with.

**If I had just one author's books to take with me to a desert isle, it would be the works of Patrick O'Brian. The movie (Master and Commander) was pale by comparison to these monumental pieces of historical fiction. (Sorry, can't help it, they are the only books I wholeheartedly recommend.)

I like pompous people. They amuse me.

As do people who want to decide what other adults should be made to do or not allowed to do....

Ronni--I thought of you the other evening as I was watching a TV re-run of a biology lecture on regeneration--such as lizards that can regenerate a limb or a worm that can grow a new body and head from just a bit of its tail. The visiting professor was a woman who had to be in her late 30s/early 40s, at least, to have achieved her professional stature. When she called on a young woman or young man in the audience to ask their question of her, she invariably referred to them as "Ma'am or Sir" regardless of the fact that she was probably twice their ages. Moral of the story: not everyone associates the titles with age.

We can take it! *grinning*

Sometimes we need to read more than one post on someone's blog before we make critical comments. Especially, blogs like yours. I hope Susanne continues to read your blog, so she can see the wide variety of opinions and ideas that appear in your "comments". She might learn something.

Just read both of your Intimations of Mortality posts, Parts I and II and enjoyed your comments and the observations of others on growing old. I have encountered a few of my own “intimations of mortality moments” on the way to growing up, mostly humorous and of no great import. Most recently, though, my life took an unexpected detour when I found myself among a group of work colleagues who were laid off from RLTV in December. Age was not a factor in the layoffs; most members of this group were considerably younger than me—in fact I was the oldest at 54 (just turned 55).

Since then, I have been conducting job searches, lining up references, and updating my resume. But something about tallying up all the years of work experience I have as an editor and writer brought home to me in a way that nothing else could the idea that many employers might look at my resume and think, “Lady, why aren’t you retiring?”

All the stories I researched and developed on Baby Boomers and elders for Retirement Living TV were focused on the positive aspects of aging—of which there are many. But as someone who needs and wants to continue working for another 10 to 15 years or more—to pay the kids’ college tuition, save for retirement, pay off the mortgage and all those good financial reasons for working—I realize that finding that next good work opportunity is going to take much longer than I thought. In spite of our heroic efforts at RLTV to prove otherwise, we live still in a culture that venerates youth and fails to see the “value-added” that accompanies a mature productive worker.

I am not complaining or whining, however. I am actually reveling in my unscheduled time off and having some fun while figuring out my next move, vis-à-vis the job market. I am getting back to hobbies I have always enjoyed; digging in the dirt in my garden; going to a cooking class with my 23-year old daughter; reading more books & spending more time cooking gourmet dinners for me and my husband, which commuting left me little time for. So there is a silver lining in this enforced downtime.

The irony of my layoff is that my older daughter and I now share the same stage in life—she’s a year out of college, waiting tables, and figuring out what she wants to do with her life and I’m out of job figuring out once more what I want to be when I grow up.

Ah life is rich indeed!

Donna wrote..."As do people who want to decide what other adults should be made to do or not allowed to do...."

They may amuse you, but they send chills down my spine. Too many people want to tell other people how to live.

I wonder sometimes when someone's perspective on what I've writtien runs contrary to my own, if I've somehow not been able to express myself well enough or convey my intent in such a way as to penetrate their point of view (especially with people I've never met in person.)

I've rarely found that to be an issue with anything you've written here, Ronni. Perhaps interpretation may have more to do with the reader's own mood at the time and their experiences. I agree with whoever it was that said they hoped she came back to read more -- maybe she just hasn't had a chance to get to "know your writing."

The joy is in the mix. TGB's mix is not too cold, not too hot... just right.

Wow - I am surprised at the reaction to what I wrote. But, after re-reading it, I can't disagree that I did sound like a sourpuss. I was having a bad day (yes, please bring out the violins) and probably should not have been posting under that circumstance.
Please accept my apology. I do get what all of you were
What more can I say? I was wrong. I guess my sense of humor took the day off.

Susan--*hands on hips* I just cannot imagine how a-n-y-o-n-e could have a bad day and write something that they later wish they hadn't. *eyes rolling* Been there...done that. I, for one, am happy to find that your head is in a better place now!

Thanks Cop Car! So am I.

"In a perfect world, age would be as acceptable and respected as youth."

In Korea, although changing due to the infiltration of Western thinking, still reveres elders. The eldest in the household of extended family members, often the mother-in-law, has the supreme power over the comings and goings of her grown children and spouses.

And Korea ain't perfect.

Each month as I make the payments on our funerals 36 month plan. I am just happy to be above the grass to hear people call me whatever they like so long as it shows respect and decency and "not late for supper." My students in Hebrew School call me Morah Yaffa which means nice teacher. (they could even call me Morah Sheila) Whatever...Susanne you are cute!!! Loved it - we are all entitled to have one or two of those because life isn't a fress rehearsal

DRESS...failed typing in high school

Perfectly stated Sheila. Thank you too. You are very "Mora."
(I knew you meant dress.)

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