Column, Looking Back

How old is old?

Getting together with friends for coffee usually brings up a topic that shows our senior status.
We reached the conclusion that “old” has a very different meaning depending on our own age at the time.
To a young child, babysitters are in the “adult category” even if the person is just a teenager. You have to obey them just like you do your parents.
When you are a child, everyone seems old! We thought our elementary school teachers were really old and some of them were probably only in their 20s or 30s. I went to a Catholic school and it was hard to tell a nun’s age. Back then they wore full habits and all that was visible were their hands and face. Their lifestyles didn’t involve time in the sun, so wrinkles probably were slower in coming.
According to my fellow coffee friends, most of our high school teachers also seemed “old” even though the span of years between teenage students and teachers had narrowed since elementary school.
I remember my teaching days when I entered a classroom at age 21. My senior class had some students who were 18. I have a feeling that I appeared to be a whole lot older because of the “teacher – student” relationship. As fate would have it, I reconnected with two former students over 40 years later and we are now in the category of “friends.” When one of them told me that she was going to be on Medicare that put a whole different twist on the age difference between us.
There must be an unspoken etiquette rule that says, “Once a teacher…always a teacher.” I call my former teachers by Mr. or Mrs. even though I am now in my 70s. I guess I am not the only one who does that, as I heard someone say, “Miss Whalen” as I was heading out on my cross-country skis several years ago. How that student recognized me I will never know!
However, once you join the work force everyone seems to be on an equal playing field when it comes to age. I never thought of my older coworkers as “seniors.” We all had equal job responsibilities and I didn’t notice anyone slowing down just because they had gray hair!
Someone commented to me recently that with the death of a close friend, whose age was 94 to her 74, it meant the loss of the last “older person” in her life. This 94-year-old happens to be my cousin. For me, her loss means that I will no longer hear the words, “Well, you’re young!” The words were spoken when I was able to do something that my relative was no longer able to do. Only a 94-year-old would tell that to a 72-year-old! To most of the world, I am “old.”
Of course, there are people who say, “Age is just a number.” That theory works when you are still able to do the things you want to do. Sometimes you have to tweak those things. For my husband and me, downhill skiing was replaced by cross-country skiing. Even that sport has some steep slopes. When our knees no longer liked those, snowshoes took their place. As long as there is a Plan B, I can accept the changes and won’t complain.
It’s common for companies to offer early retirements. I think it’s safe to say that they are trying to tell us something. As we get older, we tend to not like changes. We get comfortable with what we know and we want to stay there. That is not good for business. I was just starting to feel that way when I was 60 so an early retirement package was graciously accepted.
When you leave the work force it doesn’t take long to be technically challenged. Your savvy young coworkers are no longer around to help you out. Oh well, a child will happily tell an “old” person how to use digital devices.
I could have used some young help when my husband asked me, “What is streaming?” I hemmed and hawed on that one!
If you cannot relate to any of this yet, it means you’re young. Enjoy it while it lasts!

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