Treasured Tropes About the Ancient Old Among Us
Or, stupid assumptions about folks with a little age, beginning with the Democratic contenders
On Saturday I was listening to a geriatrics doctor on NPR who had coined the term Elderhood, and who was responding to questions about both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. Biden, who is in his 70s and Sanders, who would be 80 at his inauguration should he win, have both caused some (not-so-old pundits or else they wouldn’t say these things) that these candidates are “out of touch.”
This, in one instance, because Biden used the term “record player.”
OhforChrissakes. Grow up, would you?
Besides, as if we music lovers hadn’t noticed, vinyl and their players are enjoying a major resurgence because the music is just better.
Because, as geriatrician Dr. Louise Aronson points out, out of touch for one generation is in touch for another, and another. And well beyond that point, no single president of a country as diverse as ours could possibly have an in-depth understanding not only of generational concerns across the board, but of the unique concerns of the Hopi Indians to lobster fishermen in Maine to corn farmers in Iowa to coal miners in West Virginia to environmentalists in Alaska.
This is why they have advisors.
What annoyed me about the accusation is the implication that any leader has to be God, in effect, to be all and know all and be all things to all people, rather than a superbly-effective generalist who knows how to parce through the information provided by damned good advisors and make decisions based on that advice and his or her own gut.
But let’s get back to the age piece.
People-and most especially the orange excrescence in the White House- leveled criticism at the exceptionally competent Nanci Pelosi because of her age. Like her or not, agree with her or not, she’s no doddering fool. Where she is now is the result of decades of grooming. She’s a master strategist and Trump and his cronies know it. They fear her for good reason, which is precisely why, as this Administration is wont to do, they attack her for her age, her looks, and do their best to undermine the immense competence she has earned. And knows how to wield.
But I digress. This isn’t about politics, although the comments I was hearing were about politicians. They speak not only to the grotesque fear we have of the aging process, but more so, the remarkably uninformed and outright ridiculous notions that we have about folks after a Certain Age.
Dr. Stan Goldberg is a pretty smart old fart. This morning I stumbled across an article of his that outlines the ten most common (to him anyway) insults that we tend to hurl at our growing body of oldsters. Being almost 67, I am on the occasional receiving end of many of these, but I wanted to share them here. His full article goes into more detail but here’s the list (with my bolded comments added)
1. They are uninformed. Not knowing the names of the latest Oscar nominees does not mean we are uninformed. Uninformed is not understanding why Korea was partitioned. Though we forget names, we remember the complexities of living those who are younger are still struggling to comprehend. In all fairness, everybody forgets shit all day, all the time. That has vastly more to do with the complexity of our lives, not our ages. It’s ludicrous to assume you and I have Alzheimer’s when we forget a name, or our keys. We. All. Do. As to “uninformed,” given the orders of magnitude by which information has exploded, we all have to start curating only that which is relevant to their lives. Uninformed would also describe college students who know who Snooki is (really? WHAT THE FUCK?) but have no clue who fought or won the Civil War, nor the reason we fought it. That, folks, is embarrassingly uninformed. PLEASE.
2. Once the body goes, the mind follows. Moving slowly does not mean we have lost our marbles. Check out any book written by Stephen Hawking. As someone who is moving a tad more slowly these days, that has a lot to do with recognizing that rushing through life makes me miss shit. Therefore, I have learned to force myself to slow down and notice my surroundings. As an adventure traveler, that has not only saved my life a few times, but I have found unbelievable treasures in the dirt that people in a hurry missed. Slow doesn’t mean old. It means more mindful, in many cases. Kids recovering from an injury have to move slowly too. Why is it such an “old” thing?
3. They’ve lost the capacity to be intimate. Our ability to love is not diminished by age, nor is it confined to what happens below the belt. Intimacy with age takes on different forms. The rather shocking rise in STDs among the elderly makes this a baldfaced lie. There’s a lot going on behind those lace curtains, albeit some of it’s not very smart. That said, NPR did a story on Blue Zone centenarians in the mountains of Italy. One of the secrets was sex. It’s ridiculous to assume that just because the body ages, desire dies. Especially if you, like many of us, exercise, eat well, and take care of yourself. Of course you want to romp into your hundreds. An orgasm is an orgasm at ANY age, darlin’.
4. They’re going deaf, so speak loudly and slowly. We may not hear well, but we know how to listen and when to remain silent. And we’re alone in this? Really? Kindly: The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that 1.1 billion people between the ages of 12 to 35 years old are at risk of developing hearing loss. There’s a massive 30% rise, largely among younger folks, because of ear buds. This issue is hardly relegated to the elderly, although many of us admit to leaning into the speakers at dances when the band covered The Rolling Stones.
5. They’re always cranky. We do get cranky. Do not take it personally — physical pain and understanding the inevitability of aging have that effect. Oh. So only old folks are cranky? Please go online, to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, plenty of Medium articles, anywhere you like and you tell ME that only old folks are cranky. Get. Over.Yourself. Everyone seems to be pissed off, but blaming the elderly (who have more reasons than most, ask my left knee) is ludicrous. Look in the mirror, you wanna see cranky.
6. The elderly need guidance. Do not treat us as children, no matter how much our bodies are failing or how long it takes to process information. We may not think as quickly as we once did, but the quality of our deliberations and depth of our insights are undiminished. All of us, all our lives, need guidance in one form or another. The young need the old, to navigate work and life. The old need the young, to navigate their technology. To assume that a single grey pubic hair means that I can’t get the sweater off my arm when it got stuck on the masses of international friendship bracelets from all my epic journeys is beyond insulting. Guidance, of any kind, is a multi-generational thing. We cross-pollinate. But using infantilizing language with someone who has vastly more experience than you do, and to virtually assume ineptitude because of a number…well, sweetie, wait a while and find out how badly you want to reorganize the offender’s front teeth. For many of us, our thinking hasn’t slowed one iota. We may decide to think more carefully before speaking, but I might posit that shows a combination of admirable restraint (a rare trait these days) as well as the consideration to think about what to say before you make an unholy ass out of yourself. The orange moron isn’t included in this.
7. They glory in their dependency. We do not become dependent to make your life miserable. We are more reluctant to ask for help than people are willing to give it. I might point to the plethora of poor-me, victim-celebrating articles that I see on line, and the seemingly overwhelming desire to be coddled as opposed to challenged in our society, a society that thinks of itself as a can-do, let’s-go, achieving one. We are fast losing that, leaning on our lawyers to sue the playground when Billy breaks a nail, or investing in excuses and our sadness as ways to avoid the vicissitudes of life. So I struggle to understand this one, since many of our aging folks fought national battles (WWII, Korea, Vietnam etc) and stood up to tyrants (which, since we have one for a sitting president, seems to be out of favor for now) and made their own way. If anything, we fight to keep our homes, drive our own cars (okay, slowly) and continue to live as we damned well see fit. What I depend on are friendship, good feedback, ideas, challenges, and folks who are willing to push my limits. This lie implies that old folks want to be spoon-fed. America is fast becoming a country with the largest over-65 working population in the world. Dependent? We can’t depend on our government to provide adequate health care or protect Medicare. We have to take things into our own (uber-competent, wrinkled) hands. As a result we all continue to pay taxes into the system that we hope YOU can depend on when you get old.
8. They can’t make decisions on their own. We have made important decisions throughout our lives. Even some — believe it or not — that had a very positive effect on the lives of others. Allow us the dignity of continuing to do it, at least for ourselves. This monumental lie, which demands that we who are old hand over power over our lives to those who do not share our values and only care about our profit potential to their bottom lines, is downright evil. Big Medicine and Big Pharma stand to profit handsomely if and when we are adequately medicated to the point of incompetence, then bedridden for several decades with tubes, all the while draining our savings (and the kids’ college fund) to the tune of $8–10k a month. I might note that backing the fuck OFF and allowing us to make our own life decisions is in every single way better insurance that this does not also happen to you, Sparky. You might be in your thirties, but if we start normalizing this shit (and it already is), then sweetie, honey pie, that is YOUR future. Fighting to protect the rights of independent oldsters is an investment in your own so-called golden years. Sit up and pay attention, and put the damned phone down.
9. Their knowledge is outdated. In this fast-paced digital, cyber-connected, social-mediatized world, you may believe that our knowledge is irrelevant. But our wisdom, just as it has been since the beginning of time, is not. It comes from living. To quote the inimitable Toni Morrison, “We move from data to information to knowledge to wisdom. And separating one from the other… knowing the limitations and the danger of exercising one without the others, while respecting each category of intelligence, is generally what serious education is about.” Nobody can determine for anyone else what kinds of knowledge are outdated or useless. Go to Mongolia, where the art of eagle hunting is a guarantee to make it through the brutal winter. As that outdated? No. Because it’s relative. It depends. What’s outdated are assumptions about the elderly. Above all, why does anyone give a flying shit about what you think is relevant if that information bears no meaning to their personal life? Knowledge isn’t wisdom. It’s just curated data. And while age is no guarantee of having earned wisdom, wisdom sure doesn’t abide in massive quantities before the snow starts to land on our brows. It’s earned. It’s all about how to be in life. Data doesn’t give us that. Life does, and those with a great deal of it have a lot more useful, applicable knowledge about how to survive life’s shitstorms. Pays to listen. Passing trends and fads and technology do not trump life skills. Learning how to survive life, still laugh long and hard at eighty, be joyful despite the horrific circumstances that we all experience, are conveyed only through age and experience.
10. They behave strangely. Our attitudes and behaviors are the products of our history. So, when we say or do something you do not understand, do not dismiss it out of hand, cut us some slack. After all dudes, WE’RE OLD. You want to argue that WE behave strangely? Witness: YouTube. Facebook. Instagram. People so self-focused on their stupid kissy faces they walk themselves backwards off a cliff. Pardon me while I laugh for the next twenty years as you say that old folks behave strangely. In one way or another, we all do. Just look at Trump, who is old, deranged, monumentally stupid, seriously dangerous. You notice he hasn’t gone after old folks for being old, weird, or strange. Because he is all those things, and much more. But I digress.
Here’s what a commenter said on Goldberg’s post:
Old people are a waste of oxygen and that includes my grandparents. It’s high time we culled humans at 70 years old.
How interesting. I wonder what kind of emotional cancer this human being is sucking on in the deep dark of his soul, that he would say such a thing. But this is the sweet nectar of tyrants the world over.
That’s what Hitler said about the Jews, too, because they were Jews. You could make that same argument about any genocide all over the world. Hutus, Syrians, Catholics, Protestants, name your systematic murder-fest. Trump is no different in that way (and kindly, he was a very serious student of Hitler’s works) in his war against the press, war on liberals, war on women, war on the disabled, war on Black and Brown people…pick one. Just. Pick. One.
So, I guess, shit. This is a political issue, isn’t it?
We hate and fear what we may become, and we will all become old, unless some vicious POS decides that we are all oven-fodder after forty. IBM largely decided that its employees were useless, doddering twits after that age. Think it can’t happen? In corporate America, it already has. You and too many others were too busy watching Game of Thrones.
Don’t think it can’t happen. It has, albeit not as it relates to age other than in our corporations. People only have to have enough hate, power and fear to want to try to make a group the enemy.
That enemy could one day be age, when we fear it so much we have to wipe out all proof of it. We’re already halfway there.
Just ask all of us who are subjected to this bullshit, these insults, this misinformation and these lies. Ageism is alive, well, and widely-practiced in America and increasingly all over the world even as our aging populations burgeon.
So. Should we elect the old fart to the White House? Well, look, we did already, but I’m talking about a sober one. I for one would prefer to have someone who can directly relate to the challenges of the aging, but who is wise enough to also see the challenges of coming generations. Youth and energy are fine, but in some ways they are seriously overrated.
I love being old(er). And I am goddamned well going to fight for my right, and others’, to get older, to bloody well enjoy it, and to bask in all the benefits that the later decades bring us. Because they are many, and none are overshadowed by the simple reality of impending death. If anything, we have learned to celebrate what we have even more. And as for that mindless hate-monger above and his comment about euthanasia for anyone who hits 70, wait till he crosses that particular finish line at the local marathon, arms held high, only to be promptly trundled away in the Oldster’s Removal Van for a fast gassing.
Enjoy the ride, Sparky. It’s your last.
It’s remarkable how the scenery changes when you get there.
That’s a lesson a great many people might want to learn, rather than insult their elders.
But that’s just me. Besides, I’m old.