Visit any local athletic club. During the off hours most of the would be
athletes are over 60. Visit the local library. Most of the people acquiring
computer skills are over 60. Visit nearly any charitable organization. Most
of the volunteers are over 60. And read the weekly column by the Great Old
Broad who started a new career at 75. She'll be 86 next week.
What is this world coming to? Why are all these old people behaving as though
they aren't old?
"We are on the cusp of a revolution in aging," according to Betty Friedan,
speaking at a recent conference on older workers. She went on to say,
"Organizations that work with older people can help change society's
misconceptions and put new images of elders on the national radar screen."
Currently popular images of elders, Friedan maintains, are out of sync with the
realities of their lives. In fact, she said, a visitor from Mars surveying our
mainstream media might conclude that we kill off all our people, particularly
our women, at 35.
Perceptions of older people must change. As longevity increases, old age
should appear as a bonus -- an evolutionary opportunity.
A survey by the National Council on Aging reports that among Americans aged 65
to 69 nearly half said that "these are the best years of my life." Only 14%
said reaching a specific age is an important indicator of old age.
Age marked off in years is an artificial measurement anyway, based on the
ancients' observation of the sun and the moon. So what if I am having my 86th
birthday? I did not grow an annual ring like a tree. I just grew another
wrinkle or maybe two. And because I have had more birthdays than most
people, I have more rings - uh, wrinkles. As one of my baby boomer friends
commented, age is a matter of quality, not quantity. And we have a huge
generation of Baby Boomers who are about to learn this.
Last year there were 4.2 million Americans 85 and older. The population of
citizens 65 and over is projected to double over the next three decades to 70
million (20% of the population). The current estimate of 50,000 to 75,000
centenarians is expected to increase to 346,000 in 2050. These figures from
the Census Bureau should make all the toddlers in the country sit up and take
notice of what's ahead for them.
The next thing we have to do is find a new name for us. Old people; nah.
Senior Citizens: too trite. Elders: sounds like church officers. Dames and
geezers: no respect. Aging: that starts at day 1 so it doesn't count.
Aged: nope, that's top quality beef. Maybe we will have to drop the
stereotype and just call us people.
Some of us keep saying, "Things aren't like they used to be." I say, "Thank
goodness." A hundred years ago the average life expectancy in the United
States was forty-seven. Most women only washed their hair once a month and
used borax or egg yolks for shampoo. Plutonium, insulin, and antibiotics
hadn't been discovered yet. Scotch tape, crossword puzzles, canned beer, and
iced tea hadn't been invented. One in ten U.S. adults couldn't read or
write. Only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.
I'll take the present -- full of horrible problems though it is. Erma
Bombeck had ten rules to live by. One of them is, "Seize the moment. Remember
all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart."
So I'll have another birthday. It won't include riding to the library on my
motorcycle, or going up from the library lawn in a hot air balloon. But it
will be a very good one. And like Caroline Bird's salty old woman, I wake up
every morning wondering what is going to happen and looking forward to it,
whatever it is. Of course, whatever it is will have to wait until I have
checked to see whether all my parts are still working, and I have had my