I was listening to NPR Forum one morning with great attention, they were having a conversation on ageism. The author/guest asserted that we live in a culture that ingrains ageism (who knew?). I itched to call in and rant on this very accurate view of the subject! Unfortunately 81 year old me was busy in our barn cleaning stalls and unloading bales of bedding from our pick-up. Fortunately for my psyche there was a ninety year old who called in with a list of the committees, oversight groups, etc. that he had been involved in over the twenty years since he retired, stating “I think I still have some value” to the community.
Ageism has not always been so prevalent. At least in our neck of the woods, as children, we were required to show respect, and, yes, give up our seat to the older and infirm. Whether that was true throughout the country I have no knowledge, but the lesson stuck with me. Now, it seems, I have outlived the age of respect and been launched into an era of disdain and contempt for anyone not of “our tribe”, and not only disrespect of our older citizens, but with the onset of this pandemic a willingness to toss them out of the lifeboat.
Hey, time goes by and our bodies, everyone’s bodies, wear and tear just like our machines do. It’s true I bruise more easily, my skin is paper thin and suffers bleeding cuts from mere pricks. I have asthma and my joints ache with arthritis. That being said, I will share a short history of my senior years: My daughter and I managed to purchase a 2.5 acre property around my sixtieth birthday. Partially in order to protect that investment I worked as an Office Manager (thus paying taxes) into my mid seventies. During that period there were two office assistants who made no secret of the fact that they were waiting for me to retire (or expire) so they could move up! Very nice and efficient ladies, but obviously felt I was too old for the job I had actually created 10 years before there was even an assistant position available.
I am not a competitive equestrienne, but love to ride. One day I was having a pleasant morning atop my old, reliable Dutch Warmblood. We were trotting around a corner when suddenly I woke up in the ICU ward. I only know what my daughter told me.
Coming off after the second buck, I fell under his belly and was dragged 20 feet. They held me overnight, and apparently scanned for any broken parts or a destroyed brain (had my helmet on)! The next morning the discharge doctor, with his trail of followers, told me: “Never get on another horse”. Cue laughter. “You are joking, of course!” “Absolutely not, this is not funny, I am doing my job to protect you”. I get ready to leave and another medical person comes up and states: “you need to get a bone scan for osteoporosis”. I point to the hoof print on my arm and mentioned if 1200 pounds of horse could not break my arm ….!
My mind was thinking do you tell a 20 year old skier with a broken leg don’t ever ski again? What about football players who endure concussions and are right back on the playing field? Oh yes, and Olympic athletes who run, skate, jump on injured limbs. Oh that’s right, they are young and vibrant! Old ladies should stay in their rocking chairs.
I occasionally check into a group, online, of ladies over fifty who continue to ride. A few even in their nineties. Some seventy and eighty year olds are still barrel racing or jumping! No thanks, not that good, and admittedly a bit more fragile than I used to be. But kudos to them all!
Then there is climbing. Kris Machnick began her life in the sport at age 64, two years following retirement. As of January, 2020, she was still climbing with other women, some in their sixties. President George H. W. Bush chose to sky dive for his ninetieth birthday. I am positive there are hundreds more examples of senior citizens continuing…or learning how…to participate in activities that validate there life, and could end it at any time.
Everyone participating in a dangerous sport or pastime, and there are many seniors doing so, is aware that injury or death is always in the shadows. We once knew an equestrian in his fifties who was jumping a fence in a horse show, fell off on the other side dead of a heart attack. Not a bad way to go! Then there was a man in his eighties showing his Hackney at Madison Square Gardens, had a heart attack in the middle of the show ring, and was gone. Again, quick, doing what he loved, and among the people who appreciated his dedication to the sport. Death comes to us all sooner or later. (By the time you are my age it is already later!) What better way to reach the end then doing what you enjoy, helping others, contributing to society, or continuing to work at what you do best.
Old age does not mean you are useless, bored or dead. It doesn’t mean you are expendable in order for the stock market to thrive. In this century there are many grandparents, for whatever reason, taking on the burden of caring for their grandchildren. One can see retirees volunteering to work with groups like the Senior Gleaners to get food to the disadvantaged. Many of our leaders are aged, yet they are dealing with policies, problems, and international issues. (Admittedly some are doing so incompetently and disastrously, but there are others quite up to the challenge). There are young fools and young geniuses, lets give the senior citizens the same individuality: some are fools, some geniuses, and everything in between. Some seniors have, unfortunately, been hampered by health issues. Even so, having worked as a taxpayer and voter for around fifty years, they deserve not only care for their health and comfort but the same respect that you give others.
Native American tribes have a different attitude toward their elders:
Each tribe has its own unique culture, language, beliefs and customs. Despite these differences, there is general agreement that Native Indian elders are honored and respected by their families and communities, and they are considered to be the keepers of their tribes’ language and heritage.
New York Connects column by Cynthia Printup-Harms, the Director of Native American Independent Living Services (NAILS).
There have been other cultures that honored old age, including some Asian countries who, traditionally, revere their elders. Sadly, some of that is being lost as they copy the materialism and me first attitude that seems prevalent in today’s social norms. My hope is that we wake up to the kind of civility I saw as a child, minus the egregious racial/gender inequality and abuse that permeated the forties and fifties.
Old age is like climbing a mountain.You climb from ledge to ledge. The higher you get, the more tired and breathless you become, but your views become more extensive.
To the young and not quite so young: meet your old age when it comes with purpose, motivation and peace. In the meantime, please treat your older friends, relatives and passing strangers with respect, kindness and consideration. We all live on the same planet, we all find suffering and joy in our life journey, and we all grow old if we live to reach that mountain. Treat those who have “made it through the woods” as you would like to be treated at that stage of your life. Have a generous heart, be aware of the hazards in life, but embrace an adventurous spirit, maintain your curiosity and continue to seek new knowledge until “whatever Gods may be” call you home.