It is hard to fathom now when I see myself in photographs or on television, but it took me what felt like forever to look like the grownup I eagerly wanted to be.
When I read blogs by young women lamenting that they are getting old at 27 or 28, I realize how much times must have changed. I looked about 15 for a frustrating decade; no one took me seriously. They ignored me, dismissed my opinions and carded me in bars. I longed to see some years accumulate on my face.
At around age 30, I finally looked old enough to be treated as an adult. I still thought of myself as young and being old was far enough in my future that I didn’t much think about continued aging at the time. I’d been young for so long, I thought it would go on indefinitely - which is probably as it should be at age 30.
Not too long after I had achieved the appearance of adulthood in the eyes of others, walking home from the subway one evening – I was 35 or so - I turned the corner into my block where two boys about 11 or 12 were playing ball in the street. As the boy nearest me ran backwards to make the catch, the boy facing me yelled, “Look out for the lady behind you.”
Lady? No one had ever called me lady or woman. In those days before the women’s movement forced a widespread change in language, all but the oldest women were commonly referred to as girls except, perhaps, by children to whom everyone over the age of 20 seems old.
It was a shocking moment with intimations of mortality which I still didn’t believe in then, at least for me. It was one thing to have happily settled into adulthood; quite another to be perceived as – well, not young, to which I was still accustomed.
I brooded on it for a day or two - what the boy's perception of me as an adult might mean in the greater scheme of my life - and then let it go for the next 20 years as my life was consumed with career, lots of travel and the usual ups and downs of midlife we all experience. Until…
You’ve read it here before: the day I looked around the room at my coworkers at cbsnews.com and realized I was the oldest kid there - by decades, at age 55. And thus began my quest to discover what getting old is really like.
In the years since my youth, age has become more culturally fraught. I make a puny attempt at Time Goes By for acceptance of the natural aging, but most of the country goes blithely forward spending annual billions of dollars on anti-aging potions, Botox and cosmetic surgery.
No matter how much “work” a person has done, there must come a time when the futility of it is obvious and acceptance settles in. But what I’m interested in today, is who among us may have had similar intimation-of-mortality moments as the two I experienced.
[See the follow-up to this post here.]
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz explains a military man's clever move to foster understanding in The Silver Dollar Scheme.]