Let me preface this with a disclaimer of sorts. There are many of us who are no longer considered middle-aged and continue to be productive and lead happy, fulfilling lives. Much of that, of course, has to do with love from significant others, family and friends. And many of us have careers that can be sustained regardless of age. There are however, so many of us do not have those buffers to protect us from the harsh realities that society places on us every day. It is for this group of people that I write.
Are there any positive connotations associated with terms “senior, senior citizen, elderly, old age”? I think not – other than our obsessive need to label, categorize, and compartmentalize in our need to stereotype people (and this pertains to all forms of stereotyping). This “labeling” can be detrimental to our emotional and physical wellbeing. At some point we go from productive adulthood to “out-to-pasture” old age and suddenly everything changes in our lives. Why? What is the magical turning point? Is it 50, 60, 70?
In large part as a result of buying those stereotypes we start becoming poster people for those images. I know there are physical changes and new limitations that come from living our lives, making our health choices along the way, and at some point our bodies give way to the mileage. What about the brains behind the wrinkled face and somewhat weathered body? Disconnect! For our brains often don’t get the message of our years and physical presentation. As a 73 year old my mind seems ageless and time exists only in memories. But while I consider myself in good physical shape and appearance, others see the white hair and perhaps some telltale signs in the eyes and boom! I am immediately compartmentalized. I’m given seats on public transportation, called “Sir.” Others step aside for me, don’t make eye contact. Some may think this kind and respectful but I don’t, for it is a constant reminder to me of exclusion.
What is it that people see that makes us suddenly invisible? Is it pity or fear of the future? Perhaps, but maybe it is labeling, categorizing, compartmentalizing that pigeonholes us into some preconceived notion of helplessness and into some early graveyard, to be tolerated and pushed to the back of the proverbial bus of life. It is up to each one of us to change this perception by standing tall, being open and proud, speaking to be heard, being out in the world in every sense, and most of all continuing to learn and grow intellectually. Welcome to the world of being human and to the hope and belief that an inclusive world for everyone is possible and indeed probable.
Larry Buffington is a freelance writer and poet living and writing in Miami Beach, striving daily to stay connected with the spirit of youth.