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Old is Not a Four-Letter Word

The other day I was in the market cleaning out their supply of my husband’s favorite ice cream bar when a women came up to ask me how I liked the brand I was loading into my basket. When you get to a certain age, it’s hard to tell how old people are, but she was certainly my contemporary.

I touted the brand I was buying and gave her one of the boxes in my cart to try. She asked me if I remembered 50/50 bars. My response was, “Do I? Do you remember Push Ups?” For a few moments we stood there waxing dreamily about the good old days of novelty ice cream.

After you find yourself around 65 years of age and older, you start appreciating your own generation in a new way. Like yourself, they remember when the Beatles were on the Ed Sullivan Show, getting an Easy Bake Oven or Twister for Christmas, and eating tuna noodle casseroles and Swanson frozen T.V. dinners.

They remember where they were when they heard that President Kennedy was shot, and know all the words to “Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener.”

At this stage of my life, I look around and notice how young most of the world has become. There doesn’t seem to be as many Baby Boomers out and about in the world as there used to be. I have started picking them out in crowds. Generally, I don’t say anything to them, nor do they say anything to me, but sometimes something passes between us.

We have come from the same beginnings. We have seen some of the same sights along the way. We are bound for the same end and will likely get there about the same time. They are my shipmates on the voyage of life.

Last week my 9-year-old grandson asked me if it is inappropriate to talk to old people about being old. I told him that it is a shame how many people think that it is inappropriate to talk about aging, but between him and me there were no holds barred (an old-timey expression, which I had to explain to him). I also told him that I wouldn’t exchange the person I am now on the inside for a younger outside.

We are in an era that is struggling to come to terms with long held prejudices. But our youth-oriented culture has yet to consider its prejudices towards aging. I’d like to kick off the awareness campaign by helping all of us to see how demeaning it is to call elderly people “cute.”

It infantilizes people and strips away their power. I see older couples in their 90’s celebrating 70 years of marriage on Facebook or Instagram, and there is often a comment about how “cute” they are. He likely survived serving in Korea or Viet Nam, and she may have demonstrated and worked for women’s rights back-in-the-day. To have a marriage and a life survive that long takes fidelity, strength, and courage…there’s nothing “cute” about it.

In his song, Life is Wonderful, Jason Mraz writes, “It takes no time to fall in love, but it takes years to know what love is.” Like stones that have been smoothed through years of tumbling in a river, there is a certain sameness to all of us elders. Whether we have our health or not, whether we feel like we won or lost at love, we now have a deeper understanding of what love is than we did in our youth. We see the beauty of life simply going on. It is always going on, and it is always precious. It is God going on. The wonder is that it takes most of us so many years to reach such an obvious conclusion.

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