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Tagged with " old"
6 Feb
2014

Coming Out as “Old”

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The young woman got up and offered me a seat.  The signs behind her state that the front seats on the commuter train are reserved for seniors and others with disabilities.  But not everyone pays

I have not made any effort to hide my age as I advanced through middle age and into that category we refer to as “senior” and now approaching “old”.  I have appreciated the privileges of being senior such as reduce price fares on public transportation and at the movies.  At the same time, when I look in the mirror, I reluctantly accept my changing appearance with graying hair, the permanent creases in my face and the wrinkling skin.  Although I am fortunately healthy, my body is slowing down.  I don’t have the energy I used to have to carry a full work load, give attention to my family and engage in social and volunteer activities.  But I am not willing to hide my age.  Indeed, I have “come out” publicly as I turned seventy writing “Seven Thoughts of Gratitude on Turning 70” and publishing an essay “Writing My First Novel at 70” in the new book “Seventy Things to Do When You Turn 70” edited by Ronnie Sellers and Mark Chimsky. attention to them.  And, not all seniors want to admit their age or infirmities.  I sat down gratefully not wanting to try to balance myself and my bags on the lurching train.

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This public “coming out” has shocked some of my friends who refuse to reveal their age.  Their refusal reminds me of my aunt who lied about her age until she was well into her eighties, even though we knew how old she was.  Why are we not as proud to proclaim our age at 55, 60 or 70 as we were when we turned 12, 16 or 21?  I have written elsewhere about the impact of ageism and an uncaring society on its elders.   The discrimination in the workplace, caricatures in the media and the political environment that threatens Social Security and Medicate tells us that we are not valued as now vulnerable seniors who have contributed to our communities and our society.  We absorb those beliefs into our own mental models and we judge ourselves as unimportant and worthless as we get “old”.

Instead, we need a sense of purpose, a way of contributing to our communities, engaging with others in activities that give us meaning and an attitude of appreciation for the wisdom of our experience, for the pleasure of the present moment and for the opportunities the future can bring us.  Coming out as a vital, healthy, active senior enables us to counter the images we carry of elderly being synonymous with decline, deterioration and despair.

This coming out as a senior or as “old”, is similar, for me, to coming out as a lesbian.  Rejecting and overcoming the societal mental models of aging is analogous to rejecting and overcoming the societal judgment of homosexuality.  The wisdom of increasing acceptance from others by coming out has been a proven benefit in the progress of the LGBT movement.  I believe coming out as a senior and admitting my age openly will also benefit all of us in finding more acknowledgement and appreciation of  the value and wisdom of our life’s contribution.

This blog was published in The Transition Network newsletter in November of 2013, generating unprecedented  response.  You can see the responses in the TTN January Newsletter.
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