"If you look like you are 70 years old no one will pay any attention to you." I overheard this sentence spoken by one man to another. I did not hear any more of the conversation, neither what went before nor what came after. The speaker was a well-dressed man wearing a threepiece, business-type suit and, from one quick glance, appeared to be in his late 50s. I could not tell whether he was a lawyer, businessman, salesman, or hair stylist.
But I could not get that line out of my mind. I am 71 , and I know that I look it. Does no one pay any attention to me any more? Certainly not the graduates who came to me for counseling on what career choices to make or how to get their first jobs or make changes later in their work life. I am now retired and away from that world entirely.
I was apprehensive when I first thought about retiring. When my husband died at 65 years of age, many of his friends asked me, "Aren't you going to retire now?" or would say, "Are you still working?" They just assumed that he and I were the same age. He was really eight years older. I felt that I was not ready to retire from my active life. What I did not realize was that in eight or ten years my feelings about working, or not working, would change.
Then I was with younger people most of the time - my children, grandchildren, co-workers and student clients. I deliberately widened my circle of friends to include people of my age and older. It was refreshing to be the youngest at a social gathering for a change rather than the oldest. I studied their ways and decided which ones I admired and would like to imitate when I gpt old.
I became familiar with the problems of growing old and found that they were numerous. However, I never could agree with the philosopher who once said that "old age is a malady for which there is no cure." I joined some organizations devoted to solving older people's problems and am still trying to help with some of these. When I was ready to leave my job, I was prepared to enter a whole new arena of activity. This is not to say that the adjustment was not difficult at first, or that I did not have moments of regret or nostalgia.
It took a while to be comfortable with "old." 1 kepi looking backward, remembering how I used to look or how much I enjoyed being with my husband or the excitement of participating in the children's activities. But these times are over and, as a survivor, I have to go on.
I do not like everything about being old, but then I did not like everything about being young or middle aged either. My childhood was happy for the most part, but certainly was not perfect - why else was I so eager to grow up? My college days and early married years were exciting and a challenge but filled with anxiety and uncertainty.
Old age is not the peaceful* haven that I planned for and expected. Threats of war, high taxes, declining health, inflation, and financial insecurity are constantly with us. But this is my place in life now. There are some advantages that have been earned over the years and I intend to use them.
I have accumulated some knowledge - I hesitate to call it wisdom - that others seem anxious to share. Maybe it is not earth shaking or even a "big deal" to be able to show my grandson how he can save time by doing his laundry my way (which eliminates a lot of ironing), to show some of my friends how to knit, or to assemble information of resources available to those with limited vision or in need of housing.
It is nice to select the kinds of activities I want to pursue and reject others. It is even better to be able to say "no" when asked to do something I really do not want to. That was a luxury I could not afford when I was gainfully employed.
I am learning to use the characteristics attributed to old age to my advantage. If people insist that all old people are forgetful, then I will blame my shortcomings on "forgetfulness." If they say that old people can't be flexible, I will keep my old habits that I enjoy. If they say old people can't learn, I will never tell them how much I enjoy having time to explore new subjects and ideas. They would not believe me anyway.
When someone says tome "Don't say that you are 71 years old. Say that you are 71 years YOUNG," I appreciate their sentiments, but I still feel that the word old is not all bad.
You do not say to a small child, "Say you are four years young" or ask a teenager, "How young are you?" I really do not want to be a phony youngster, but a successful old person.