On my way home Sunday night, I dropped into a local Starbucks to say “hello” to a friend who works there. Half hour to their closing time, the café was not busy. I was feeling particularly ebullient after an evening of taking photos and talking with people at the Taste of Little Italy. I asked a young man behind the counter if my friend was working that night. He sought him out and yelled, “Dan, there’s an old lady here to see you.” I spoke briefly with my friend, left, and reflected on what had just happened. Wow!!
I’ve felt particularly young lately: working out at the Y regularly, meeting many new and interesting people, renewing friendships with old friends and colleagues, developing new skills, doing a small renovation I have dreamed about for years. I weigh less than I have in thirty-five years, and am now wearing clothes I haven’t been into for decades. (Note: some clothes age well). Last week, I even renewed my short hair style which my friends say looks good and is appropriate for Toronto (not like the long pigtails I was sporting previously, which cousins out west loved and colleagues here hated). I never think of myself as an “old lady.”
“Old lady” need not be an insult. It can be a statement of fact. Even Gail Sheehy, in New Passages: Mapping your Life across Time (Random House, 1995), who was among the first to examine modern aging, agrees that someone over ninety is “old” and someone over one hundred “old old.” Among some people, “old lady” is a term of endearment, as in “my old lady,” or “my old man.” I think it charming that some long-term spouses refer to their partners by nicknames (though “she who must be obeyed” probably could be misconstrued). Since the young man at Starbucks doesn’t know me from a hole in the wall, I must assume he was making a statement of fact: in his eyes, I was an “old lady.”
But his assessment is not consistent. I can remember being offered a seat on a crowded subway only once. I remember it clearly; the generous donor was a young Asian woman whom I concluded was particularly well-brought up. Or maybe it was her cultural background. I was surprised. On the streetcars, people must have more time to look around; I have been offered seats on streetcars several times. In my view, this is a mark of civility and I am always grateful to accept. And then there was the time that I was standing on a bus on Granville Street in Vancouver with another woman “of a certain age” standing beside me. A seat became available and she suggested that I sit down. Again, taken by surprise, I suggested that she sit down. She desisted. Lest we made fools of ourselves for all to see, I thanked her and sat down.
I hold no grudge against the Starbucks employee. On the contrary, his words made me reflect yet again on how lucky I am. Lucky to be alive; lucky to be relatively healthy. Practically everyone I know of my age has some sort of chronic condition which we manage, more or less successfully, with the help of modern medicine. I feel better knowing that “the tin man syndrome” is commonplace getting out of bed in the morning, or standing up after sitting for a long time. For all the inevitable inconveniences, I relish that I have become a crone, could wear purple if I wished, and will age in a community of friends. There are many adages about aging: “You are as old as you feel;” “Aging is not for the faint-hearted;” and dozens of others. All true. But I wouldn’t trade my age for that of anyone.
Thanks to modern medicine, access to quality nutrition, and more information on every possible topic under the sun, I am still “middle aged,” according to Sheehy. On my next birthday, I will be heading into the decade of the “late middle aged.” Even at eighty, I would be considered “young old.” And then there is Crowley and Lodge’s Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You’re 80 and Beyond (Workman, 2004). Thanks to a cousin in Kelowna who gave me this wonderful book on my retirement, physical activity has become a priority for the first time in my life. And what a difference it makes. It’s never too late.