The Movie Theater Massacre
Resting our Brains to Improve Memory

Elders Invisible – Not This Time

category_bug_ageism.gif A poem from Shel Silverstein nicely captures the invisibility that cloaks people as we get old:

Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the old man, “I do that too.”

The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
“I do that too,” laughed the old man.”

Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”

“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”

And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
“I know what you mean,” said the old man.

In an interview in Australia's The Age several years ago, mystery writer Ruth Rendell talked about an instance of invisibility at her age – then, 76:

“…I am not going to pretend that growing old is all sweetness and light. And this is not because of my outlook on life and my attitude, but very much because of the way younger people view old age.

“Old women especially are invisible. I have been to parties where no one knows who I am, so I am ignored until I introduce myself to someone picked at random. Immediately word gets round and I am surrounded by people who tell me they are my biggest fans. This is fine for me, but what about the others, my contemporaries, left isolated?”

And so it goes. I have my own stories of being made invisible and I know you do too. But sometimes – oh, so rarely and therefore amazingly – we are, for moment or two, noticed.

It was last week and I had stopped in my local Rite-Aid to replenish a couple of personal items. A new girl, impossibly young from the vantage point of my 71 years, was at the checkout stand. I could tell she was new because she wore a name tag that said, “Trainee.”

An older clerk was observing and helping out by packing up the purchases. As the trainee handed me change, she blurted out, “What beautiful hair you have.”

I say “blurted” because it was like that. The statement erupted from her spontaneously and I think we were both surprised.

Now, my hair is gray, fading lately toward white. It's rather long and I usually wear it pulled back in a clip of some sort to keep it out of my face. Nothing special. But the obviously genuine compliment was.

We both grinned as our gazes connected. I said thank you then as she turned to the next customer and I left the store.

A small moment that the young trainee may not remember at all. But a small moment that made my day and has delighted me each time I have recalled it.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins: Old Age

Comments

I sometimes ask for consideration from younger people because of being "an old lady" but then I just say it's part of "R E S P E C T," that old song!

What a nice thing for the young girl to "pipe up"with a compliment! I'm kind of free with the compliments, sometimes for older men and that can get me in trouble! (I already have a nice older man at home). I confess, a nice fatherly Spencer Tracy type always makes me wish I could simply hug him, just for looking like Spencer Tracy. All my life I have loved older people, and now that I am getting to be in that class, I wonder why all people don't feel the same. The world does not "belong" to just one select age group.

Bless her heart for making yours happy!

When I doff my cloak of invisibility, I notice three main responses from younger people:
- Age:"Oh, you don't look a day over..."
- Buying cigarettes: "Can I see your ID?"
- Condescension, as though I was either a small child or a blithering idiot.

My line of defense:
I. "Thank you."
II. "If you're lucky, you'll get to my age."
III. The old curmudgeon speaks.
Then I don my cloak and go home.

What a beautiful post!
Love it~
Irene

Within western cultures, many youth look more at the physical aspects of people and make mistaken judgements about a person's character. To those beautiful young people the elderly are often lumped into a group that disparages nerds, ugly people and obese people. It's presumed that if you don't look appealing then you are some how less productive and contribute very little to society.

The beauty of untouched almost white hair makes a statement in a culture that makes a lot of money of off hiding a person's true appearance by encouraging insecurity about being natural looking, being ourselves. Perhaps you have proved to be a role model for that young woman and many other young people. I hope so.

Fun to read your post today. Not always sure why some days I feel visible and others invisible. Your hair compliment was genuine and spontaneous and that young lady will surely do well at whatever she does because of her open attitude.

I looked up to your recently changed photo which says volumes about your attitude and sense of fun and confidence. Then I had fun trying to assign an age to each of your photos. My guesses were 3, 8, 17, 20, 24, 30, 35, 42, 57, and picture perfect 71. I have always enjoyed people beyond retirement age and love to listen to their stories and laughter, and guess what, "Now I am one!" Life is good, and a lot of it is just recognizing that even a bad day for me is better than for most of the rest of the world.

Nice. Try reading new book, "Calling Invisible Women" by Jeanne Ray, for a fun, quick take on this issue.

Well, of course your smile hasn't changed at all! I find that if I'm smiling, others seem to "see" me more and respond.

I love Shel Silverstein.

I have to confess that I try to make myself invisible to avoid having to struggle to hear what strangers are saying to me. My cochlear implant helps, but there are some people that I just can't understand and it's easier to avoid talking than to
try to have a conversation.

(Please, no lectures on telling them I have a hearing loss; I do that.)

There is a little thrill for me when someone calls me by name -- when I didn't know they knew it. Being invisible puzzled me at first, then rather raised my hackles. By now, for the most part it doesn't matter. In truth, more and more I find it convenient.

Must tell you that after your last column about Donald Murray, I got his book, "My Twice-Lived Life" (from Amazon)and oh what a lovely book it is. You just wish you had the chance to know him better. His aging experience is so honest that I find myself laughing out loud and tears in my eyes all in a few pages. Many thanks for reminding me of him.

As someone who is often invisible and will read almost anything... I recently read a fun book on my Nook titled Invisible by Lorena McCourtney. The heroine is "older." When she realizes she's "invisible," she becomes a detective. I think it was free or $1.99.

It's funny, but I rarely notice being invisible. Being invisible is invisible to me? I do notice that younger people don't give up their seats when the buses get crowded, but I've attributed it to poor character or somesuch. Come to think of it, tho, it's probably invisibility--they don't even notice me standing right in front of them, hanging onto the loop overhead for dear life!

I heard someone say that since she had reached the age of invisibility she could go shoplifting and never get caught.

Book recommendation: Doris Lessing, The Summer Before the Dark. All about being invisible come the older years.

One of my weapons to becoming invisible is to speak to people more freely than I was able to when I was younger. My father used to do it and it embarrassed the hell out of me, even through my 20's and 30's. Now I do it and I find most people respond positively, even if I'm only asking them what aisle they found that grocery item in. I especially love it when a rather surly-looking teen-ager responds eagerly and seems to want to continue the conversation. That's my mission assignment for that day--to get a young person to recognize that an old lady just might be interesting!

correction: "AGAINST becoming invisible"

I do what Lyn does, and have lots of fun striking up small conversations with anyone who is handy and wants to talk. It is surprising how many positive responses I get; my wife is not sure whether to be amused or dismayed by an elder going out of his way to speak with relative youngsters.

I make it a goal to engage older people in some way, as I live in a community that is primarily retired people. A smile goes a long way, or just to say good morning. I learned a lot about the invisible thing with my blessed husband.
Love your chutzpah!

A young man actually offered me his seat on a packed hotel van the other day. I was delighted that there are well mannered young still out there. This occurred in Minneapolis. Perhaps that makes it less remarkable than if it were, say, New York or San Fran. Still, I gushed a bit to his wife so I'm sure he got my message.

I never thought I would miss being whistled at until it didn't happen anymore :)
a/b

Tarzana, couldn't resist telling about my experience in NYC last summer. Having been a college student/
nanny for a summer in 1970 and having been warned at that time to never look people in the eye because they might reciprocate with ill intent, I have to say today's Manhattan is quite refreshing. No matter where we were--bus, subway, street, theater, deli--the people were very friendly and helpful at every turn. And age did not matter. We were treated very well by old and young alike.

No wonder you miss it, Ronnie!

We cant and shoud'nt simply fade away.Got to show the same spark and curiosity for life whenever our old age allows us!!

People are kind and courteous to me, which I do appreciate, but mostly they look right through me without seeing.

One of life's joys, however, is meeting that uncommon person (who can be any age) who is interested in everything and everyone.

For the most part I enjoy my invisibility. Being very shy, I often yearned for it when I was younger. Still, it's nice to be recognized. Like the other day at the supermarket when the clerk remarked she hadn't seen me for several weeks. Or when the trainee in the pharmacy expressed surprise at my birth date (so old) and said she'd never have guessed.

As for your beautiful hair, I'm SO jealous. It seems I'm going to be stuck forever with a 50/50 mix of dishwater blonde and silver. I'd give anything for a beautiful full head of silver. Natural, of course. I'm too cheap to color it every six weeks when I get it cropped short every few months.

I used to be invisible but now I have a very large long-haired dog. She attracts a lot of attention, mostly comments about how beautiful she is and some about how awful it must be to live with all that hair. But I sure don't feel invisible when I am out and about with her! I bask in the reflected glow of all that attention.

A big dog is a bit of a pain in the arse but boy, no invisibility here!

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