There I was at Donut World for my iced decaf. The counter person asked, “Would you like your senior citizen discount?” Turning to see who he was talking to behind me, I was amazed to discover I was now the only one in line.
Senior citizen discount? Me? I admit I’m not into chronological age. My wife, Brown Eyes, regularly reminds me to ask for my age-related discount at the movies. Some would call this denial. I prefer to think of it as living outside the age-driven box.
Either way, I got to thinking: What is it about our after 50 language that traps us into allowing ourselves (and those marketing products and services to us) to make us primarily age-defined?
I started to reflect on my own life. I’m over 60. I have a professional life, ride my bike 8 miles per day 5 or 6 days a week, and research/write and speak publically. My friends are really interesting characters. I’m married to an amazing woman and actively connected to my children and grandchildren. I’m a photographer. Why would I – or anyone else – want to primarily define myself or allow others to primarily define me by aging-related labels?
I decided to interview some of the people in my neighborhood (Palm Heights, elevation 14’) about age-related vocabulary words.
My first stop was at the home of Steve and Shannon Pico, both 57. Shannon opened the door and immediately called to Steve, “George is here again with another of his weird questions that will give me a headache!” Steve came to the door. “What, "I asked, “are your most and least favorite age-related vocabulary words?” “Mobility”, Shannon said, “is my favorite. I have great mobility and, as a former dancer, it’s a source of pride and reassurance to me.
"Wrinkle is my least favorite. My body has places I didn’t used to have places and they all involve at least 1 wrinkle.” Steve jumped in. “Elderly is my least favorite. Elderly will be when I can’t be fully self-managing. It will have nothing to do with my exact age and everything to do with my health and abilities. Freedom is my favorite. No one requires anything from me without my permission. I love my freedom.”
Next stop was Sara Caldwell’s house. Sara is 78. “My favorite is Great Lady. I have worked for years to have the presence, ability, and reputation for being a powerful volunteer and community leader. Early in my life I couldn’t have been authentic Great Lady. Now I see myself as one. Widow is my least favorite. While it’s technically true, I resent being primarily defined by the presence or absence of someone else. Heck, I didn’t like it as a wife when my husband was alive!”
Finally I stopped at David and Juliette Harwood’s house. Juliette is 66. David is 64. I asked my question. “If you had asked me a year ago," Juliette said, “I would have said the word Aging was my least favorite. It seemed so inevitably negative. Now I’m distinguishing between what I can do something about (the quality of my life) and what I can’t do much about (my chronological aging). Aging may even have become my favorite word because I now think of myself as an accomplished and valuable silver tea pot with its well-deserved place at the table.
David said, “Retirement is definitely my favorite word. It means I’m free from all of the responsibilities I dragged around with me for so long: work and kids. I delayed gratification long enough. Now it’s time for others to work. My least favorite is Plan. While Juliette and I do have a financial plan, so far our retirement life has been full of surprises and change. I’m finding success is related as much to adaptability as it is to staying on Plan.”
All of my neighbors are pioneering their over 50 lives. And all of them, sometimes without realizing it, are challenging the vocabulary of aging. My thanks to the counter person at Donut World for pushing my senior citizen button!