They were just three little words, but they struck my face like an icy snowball when the ticket salesman at Cinemark directed them to me a few days ago. “Senior Discount, Sir?” he asked almost hopefully. Then after a brief pause, “Or Bargain Matinee?” I had hoped that some member of Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation was standing behind me, but no such luck. He had aimed those words at me.
Now, I realize that this unintended insult doesn’t quite have the gravity of the “When are you due” question being asked of a woman who is not, in fact, carrying a child in her womb. But it still disheartened me.
Doesn’t this guy gripping the lowest rung of the entertainment industry ladder know just how great I look for my age? I am only 55 and I run five days a week. I ran a ½ marathon just the weekend before and finished ahead of many people years younger than me. Sure, I’m bald, but I had on a baseball cap. Sure, I’m on the cusp of prostate issues, but he couldn’t detect that inside his glass booth could he? Was I fidgeting?
And to make it worse, he was no young teenage whippersnapper. I am guessing that FDR was President when he was born. It’s a shame really that he has to work at all at his age. Even with his thick corrective lenses, he probably couldn’t pass the eye test at the license bureau. Maybe he was distracted by all the oldsters in the theater that day. After all, it was “Senior Monday.” Let’s face it: he barely looked up from his “Modern Senior Living” magazine. It was an overcast day and the sun was in his eyes.
Don’t get me wrong. I love and admire the Greatest Generation. That was a group that understood sacrifice. They made fantastic contributions to America and to the world. But I am smack in the middle of another age bracket - that self-indulgent group called Baby Boomers. We never wanted to act or look our age. When we were in our late teens, we wanted to look older, and in later years we wanted the respect and privileges that we had not yet earned. We know (or at least hope) that retirement and Social Security checks will one day be in our future, but not yet, Lord, not yet.
A friend of mine whose birthday is the same month and year as mine got his frozen snowball in the face a few weeks before mine when a pharmacist asked him if he should bill Medicare for his flu shot. My friend was so stunned that a medical professional overestimated his age by ten years that he went home and studied his face in the mirror. He then shaved off the grey moustache he had had most of his life. I saw him the day before he shaved off the mustache and the day after. The difference was incredible. He looked at least a week younger.
You can run, you can shave, but you cannot hide from your age.
How do you know when you are old and what can you do about it?
Another friend of mine told me that she knew she was old when she stepped into an elevator one day and no man turned to check her out. She was invisible to them. She said that she felt relieved rather than sad.
I am ok with being 55. In fact, I think 55 is a great age. I’ve seen a lot, but I haven’t seen it all. I don’t feel like I have to prove anything to anyone, and I still feel like I’ve got adventures in my future. It is a good place to be.
Last weekend I heard about man somewhat younger than me – only 47 – who made a drastic life change. He quit his job, sold his house, and is currently floating down the Ganges River on a motorcycle powered raft. He is a cancer survivor and decided that he needed to shake up his life. He is embracing life and I admire him for it.
I don’t think I’ll be building a raft anytime soon, but I’m not ready to pack it in either.
As I reflect on my age and come to terms with how old I must look to others, I find a significant amount of wisdom in Reinhold Neibuhr’s Serenity Prayer:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.
I also am thankful for the late philosopher athlete Satchel Page who is quoted as asking: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”
My daughter-in-law Heather was working with an elderly patient at a nursing home when the woman asked her: “How old am I?” Heather responded: “How old do you think you are?” The woman answered: “25.” Heather then said: “You’re right.”
That is some great wisdom about aging from two women of very different generations.