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