Monday, June 27, 2011

It's bad to be old.

Most people are afraid of old people.

First, the term “old people” is politically incorrect according to most standards. It’s rude and carries a You’re Inferior weight with it. Secondly, what makes it politically incorrect is that most people believe “old” reflects a person’s age…and apparently it’s bad to be old.

I would deduce most people of an older age have a wealth of knowledge in one way or another. Maybe they had a lifetime career and are practically an expert at something. Maybe they spent the better part of three decades raising children. Most likely they have had an abundance of human experiences and that’s definitely worth something.

Some older people are also resentful, angry, not nurturing, and selfish. Just like any age group – there’s going to be bad apples.

Old people have locked their keys in the car. They’ve fallen down stairs. They’ve been drunk beyond comprehension. They’ve hated a movie. They’ve had their heart broken. They’ve been lost. They’ve had doubt. Just like you.

But despite their inherent human knowledge, older people tend to be pitied and feared. It’s like we’re worried about you. We can’t trust you. You look old and frail and that’s all you’ll ever be. You probably won’t remember stuff and you’re sickly. You drive slow, too.

I’ll tell you what the problem is – old people are misunderstood.

In one week I had two experiences with “old people” that are worth talking about.

The first occurred as I was riding on a form of public transit and there wasn’t enough room to scratch yourself if you had to. I imagine it would be similar to the Tickle-Me-Elmo crowd circa 1996. I saw two young ladies, probably 19 or 20ish, manage their way into two of the only open seats. True to form, they pulled out their smart phones and started tapping away.

I was standing next to two old people, a couple – probably in their late 70s. The man was fine in his sardine-like predicament and it was obvious he was along for the ride like everyone else. The woman, however, looked very weak, and tired, and like she could very well fall over on the next turn.

I looked at the ladies. I looked at the old couple.

I was embarrassed for my age group. It isn’t the old people that should be pitied, it is the screen-obsessed teens and twenty-somethings that should be ashamed. I understand this was only one tram, in one city, and isn’t enough to make a general statement. It’s not enough to say “all twenty year olds are unaware” – I would be debasing my own argument if I did.

Regardless of any developing stereotypes, I was mad. I was mad at them for not giving their seats to the old people. I was mad at them for not seeing. For not thinking. There’s a reason why themes of thoughtfulness (and its lacking) have become commonplace to my blog. Most of the human race’s shortcomings can be faulted to lack of thoughtfulness. This couple is old, ok, that doesn’t mean anything is WRONG, it just means their old bones could use a seat more than your young bones.

The second encounter occurred as I was standing at the bar at a local pub. As I waited for my microbrew someone tapped me on the shoulder.

I turned to see a man who was probably witness to the invention of the wheel, and he was trying to hand me something. He smiled at me with his gray eyes and opened his fingers to reveal a chocolate gold coin resting in his palm.

I was gracious and took the coin. I thanked him. Then I watched as his entire face lit up, as if he had waited five years for someone just to look at him. He told me I was pretty and to watch out for myself. He was charming in that creepy sense that comes across as an older person talks in whispers and you never really hear what they’re saying. I smiled and nodded. He wasn’t meaning any harm, he just wanted someone to talk to. He was flirting a little, and didn’t get my body language hints, but that’s not unique to old people, is it? He’s a person too, like anyone else, who experiences loneliness and friendship and awkwardness regardless of age.

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: I was too much of a chicken shit smart to eat the chocolate coin.)

It’s wrong to call them old. “Old” isn’t age at all – it’s a state of mind.

One of my grandmothers is 75. She likes to drink strong margaritas while winning fistfuls of money at the race track. She likes to travel and wraps every Christmas present with lots of ribbon and an ornament (-am I practicing writing her online dating profile? Maybe.). She has a thirst for life that is unmatched by most of the people I have ever met. When someone meets my grandmother, some version of this conversation ensues:

Other person: “Your grandmother is nuts awesome! How old IS she?”

Me: “75.”

Other person: “You’re KIDDING.”

Me: “Absolutely not. Born in 1936.”

Other person: “She doesn’t seem THAT OLD.”

That’s right. The woman was born before the Beatles were the Beatles. Before the moon landing. Before hippies. Before WWII. The woman’s been around.

Yet the last word I would use to describe her is “old.” Age is a number and nothing more. Not all 14 year olds are naïve and not all 80 year olds are senile.

I also have a couple of friends (who could very well be reading this and I give my apologies in advance), and these friends are in their late 20s…and are convinced they have a foot in the grave. They don’t want to go out for a drink, they don’t want to be spontaneous, and they don’t want to do a lot of things because they claim they’re “too old.”

Again, I tell you, “Old” isn’t age at all – it’s a state of mind.

The next time you see an old person, I ask you not to reduce their existence to being “frail” and a population that has nothing to contribute. They’re like you. They’re like me. They’re hopeful. Flawed. Human. Just like anyone else…except they get sweet discounts everywhere they go. Jerks.


  1. Nice..I've always felt the same way. I love older people. Actually hope to be one some day : )