Guest Blogger: Saul Friedman
Sunday Issues - Post-Election Edition: 9 November 2008

This Week in Elder News: 8 November 2008

In this regular weekend feature you will find links to news items from the preceding week related to elders and aging, along with whatever else catches my fancy that I think you might like to know. Suggestions are welcome with, however, no promises of publication.

In at least one polling place in Georgia on Tuesday, elders who use wheelchairs and walkers were – illegally - prevented from voting until late in the day. In some places, elders who are physically incapable of standing for hours in long lines were allowed to go to the front, but that wasn’t so everywhere.

Long waiting times amount to an elder poll tax, as do polling stations with stairs that lack elevators. Next time, we elders should take it upon ourselves to communicate with our election boards long before election day to ensure access for everyone.

I’ve long insisted that the youngest baby boomers (44 this year) have next to nothing in common with oldest (62 this year). Here’s a story that discusses the differences and why President-elect Obama, born in 1961, has tried to distance himself from the boomer generation he is technically part of.

A new survey of more than 3,000 Americans who were questioned twice nine years apart finds that young and middle-aged people tend to underestimate their past happiness and overestimate their future happiness. Elders, on the other hand, those 65 and older, are more realistic and accurate in their assessments. The researchers believe they understand the reason. More here. (Hat tip to Stan James of Wandering Stan)

YES! At last I’ve found someone else who objects to anyone 60 and older being referenced as elderly:

“Bag the 'elderly' tag, she said - the preferred terminology these days is ‘seniors’ or ‘older adults’.”

Personally, I find “seniors” and particularly “senior citizens” a bit dusty, terms that in time have become pejorative even when not intended to be so. “Older adults” is an improvement, but I’d like to see and hear “elders” more often. More here.

Among the election post mortems, some suggest that ageism played a bigger role than racism in how people voted. Exit polls revealed that of those who factored age into their choice, 78 percent voted for Senator Obama.

I don’t think that 72 is necessarily too old to begin a presidency, but the lack of the full disclosure of Senator McCain’s health records was worrisome and worth consideration. Some more thoughts here.

Reader and frequent TGB commenter Mary Jamison sent along this bittersweet poem, Lucky, by Tony Hoagland:

If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to help your enemy
the way I got to help my mother
when she was weakened past the point of saying no.

Into the big enamel tub
half-filled with water
which I had made just right,
I lowered the childish skeleton
she had become.

Her eyelids fluttered as I soaped and rinsed
her belly and her chest,
the sorry ruin of her flanks
and the frayed gray cloud
between her legs.

Some nights, sitting by her bed
book open in my lap
while I listened to the air
move thickly in and out of her dark lungs,
my mind filled up with praise
as lush as music,

amazed at the symmetry and luck
that would offer me the chance to pay
my heavy debt of punishment and love
with love and punishment.

And once I held her dripping wet
in the uncomfortable air
between the wheelchair and the tub,
and she begged me like a child

to stop,
an act of cruelty which we both understood
was the ancient irresistible rejoicing
of power over weakness.

If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to raise the spoon
of pristine, frosty ice cream
to the trusting creature mouth
of your old enemy

because the tastebuds at least are not broken
because there is a bond between you
and sweet is sweet in any language.


Thanks Mary for submitting the poem by Tony Hoagland. That is one powerful poem! Dee

A few days ago, while half-listening to the radio, I thought I heard a reference to Barack Obama as the first post-boomer president. I thought I had either mis-heard or had gotten his age wrong.

P.S. I'll miss the stories. I tried to think of a way you could have a few people go through the "slush pile" or pre-edit, but even that would still require that you do the final work. I can't think of anywhere else that wants these stories, so many will just be lost.

I agree with you Ronni about "elderly" and I used to agree that "elder" was a better term, but after reading Old isn't elder over at Serene Ambition last month, I am coming around to the idea that "being an Elder is a role, not a fact of biology." That you have to earn the title of Elder. I don't particularly care for "senior", but I can handle "older" or just plain "old". I laughingly remember a friend's young daughter who categorized adults as "old" (her mother) or "old old" (her grandmother)!

I do not like the term elderly and I have trouble with old and senior as well. I think this is in large part due to the fact that my parents are in their early 60s and I cannot possibly think of them as either elderly or old. They are active and healthy and still employed (well, that is out of necessity since they are self-employed and can't retire), but I'm not sure I'll ever be able to think of them as old or elderly. They are my parents, they took care of me and still in some ways do (via emotional support) - I am not ready to switch roles and be their caretaker, and hopefully I won't have to for a long time.

I do like the term elder, and the idea, as Anne said, that it is one that has to be earned.

I copy others, but can't help it. That is one POWERFUL poem.

Maybe we should organize the Wise Old Owl Scouts (The WOOS) and have members try to qualify for an Elder Merit Badge. Some of the tests or tasks that would have to be successfully completed might include:

Determining when you need to surrender your driver's license.

Settle a fight/ argument without recourse to any physical force between two 20-something, testosterone saturated drivers after a fender bender (knocking heads together not permitted)

Convince a young person that they can wait for something they "really need"

Demonstrate effectively that compassion and understanding will beat stealth and cheating every time.

What kind of tests can you think of?
What should the badge look like?

Maybe the "WOOS" aren't necessary?

I also dislike senior or elderly unless they're giving me a discount on something. I prefer to think of myself as full of wit and wisdom with an old body and young mind behind the cobwebs.

Great post...
Dorothy from grammology

Interesting post and blog. Relevantly, many prominent experts and publications have pointed out that Obama is part of Generation Jones, born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and GenXers.
You may find this page interesting: it has, among other things, excerpts from publications like Newsweek and the New York Times, and videos with over 25 top pundits, all talking specifically about Obama’s identity as a GenJoneser:

So we've got:

Old: What my oldest child thinks I am
Older: What my youngest child thinks I am
Old-old: What I think my in-laws are
Seniors: Euphemism for older-than-me
Senior Citizens: What I claim for discounts
Elderly: A polite way for the wet behind the ears to say "older than dirt"
Elders: A world-wise state I haven't achieved

Too bad Roget isn't around to provide us with more synonyms for this nebulous state of being of retirement age yet expecting many more years of life.

Our terms are a hold-over from those years when people didn't live so long; you could call them what you wanted because they 1) were too weak to fight back, and 2) couldn't hear you anyway.

The idea of naming generations might be a stop-gap measure. My in-laws are of the "Greatest Generation." I am in the first decade of the "Baby Boomers," but even that term is too broad, encompassing those growing up in the 50's and early 60's and those coming of age in the 70's.

What's the solution? Don't know, but I do know that those of 6+ decades need some term to refer to them that isn't stereotyping, demeaning, and confining.

Oh, my--the poem about taking care of her mother ripped into memory with jagged tears, reminding me of all my supposedly long-self-forgiven inadequacies as caretaker.

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