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.]