One of the things that COVID-19 has done to us is redefine “old” and “at risk.” One daughter was recently lamenting the fact that my and my husband’s immune systems are frail. Another daughter suggested we invest in compression socks for our upcoming travels. Although appreciating the concern, I reminded them that we are not yet even to the 60 year old threshold. Yet I realized, once again, that they must see us as old. (The daughter who offered no warnings is now enjoying favorite child status).
Quite frankly, there are so many factors in society that do make me think I’m getting a bit long in the tooth. Music is certainly one realm. Admittedly, I have always been a bit out of step with current music. In my former office, we had a tradition of playing a 3 PM song and quite often I was regaled with rappers or artists I had never heard of. (I retaliated with John Denver). In that same office there were even those of us referred to as “the olds” because we would throw out names like Johnny Carson, Joni Mitchell, Spiro Agnew, Jimmy Stewart, Deep Throat, Hogan’s Heroes, or Captain Kangaroo and be met with blank expressions. “What is a sport coat? A leisure suit?” we were asked. And, dagger to my heart, “Who is Mrs. Beasley?”
Of course, the exchange was all in good fun, but it does give credence to my idea that, in the workplace, 60 is the new 80. I stopped counting the number of friends who desperately hold on to their jobs out of fear that they won’t be able to find something else because they have lived through six decades. At some point experience became a dirty word. Since when did energy and experience become mutually exclusive?
I can shrug off being called “old” in the workplace; I know (hope) it’s in jest. But I cannot tolerate the ways in which society at large makes me feel reduced. Take restaurants, for instance. When did an emphasis on ambience sabotage menu readability? When did it become okay to ignore professional guidelines on readable fonts and the appropriate contrast between background and type? Who are these graphic designers? At least turn on some lights, for God’s sake! Recently my husband and I tried a new restaurant and agreed we liked the mood lighting—until it took a pair of reading glasses and two iPhone flashlights to decipher the menu.
Some years ago, my parents were tearing their hair out over remote controls. They had Direct TV and could never figure out which remote to use for it, versus powering on and off the television. Then there was the VCR. Learning to record a program was for them only slightly less stressful than solving a multi-variable calculus problem. Although I set my mom up with a Facebook account, she inevitably had problems getting Facebook to load—or learning how to tap the tablet gently enough to get to where she wanted to be.
I acknowledge that there are many people—friends of mine—who are in their 90s and have adjusted to the worlds of iPhones and social media and smart TVs swimmingly. I realize, too, that my parents were technologically challenged and resistant to change. But I do wonder at the accelerated pace with which our world moves, especially in the technology sector, and how scary the world must seem at times to the older generation.
The Coronavirus scare has made me think about age and also about wisdom because with the former comes the latter. We lived through the JFK assassination and the summer of ’68, remember the terrors of draft notices, and the pains of Watergate. I experienced gas rationing as a child and the fear that the AIDS epidemic caused on us college students of the 80s. As kids, we were given homemade cookies and casually wrapped candies as Halloween treats, and I remember how easy it was to open a medicine bottle, before the Tylenol murders in Chicago made those blasted hard-to-open and well-sealed pill bottles an unfortunate reality. Heck, I recall being able to buy an antihistamine for hay fever without being suspected of running a meth lab in my dining room.
And then there was 911 and its aftermath. Remember the time when you could walk someone all the way up to the airport gate to say goodbye? When you could tie your shoes before heading to a flight and know they would stay on? How dramatically our world changed in ways tragic and trivial, after those towers came down.
When asked why she eloped so young, my mother explained that my dad had just been drafted into the Korean War. Having lived through the air raids of World War II, they were convinced this was the end of civilization. Fear has always been with us, and we “olds” should assure the “youngs” that this Coronavirus scare too shall pass—if we are cautious and work together. The young profiteer who stockpiled 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer does not define us. Rather, I put my faith in the young woman who, when the tornado ravaged part of Nashville last week, stood in the road on one side of a downed power line—to warn cars in the darkness of the danger ahead.
I recently read a clever article, “40 Common Older People Habits That Younger People Just Don’t Understand.” It was tremendously vindicating for me personally because we have surrendered our landline (see #13) and I still prefer to sleep late (#14). Hence, I’m not old. However, #4 was particularly interesting. How many of the younger generation take selfies to document a moment and how many of us 50/60 somethings preserve a memory by taking picture of other people?
My children laugh at the fact that I am often wearing at least two pairs of glasses on my head. I have readers for the computer and readers for books. My eyes are a work in progress. So be it. Recently I received an invitation to my college reunion. It started by saying, “Congratulations! Your 35th reunion is coming up.” Congratulations because I am still able to travel to it? Kudos that I am still alive? I just chuckled, knowing that I would be there, two pairs of readers on my head, grateful to have long-time friends and thankful for having survived it all, despite my apparent fragility.