Our culture decides when we are “old.” I remember years ago when my Uncle Phil, known for his candor, looked closely at my face and told me, “Yup, you’ve got only a few more good years left.” I also recall an earlier time when I was seen as a “miss,” as in “May I help you, miss?”
Later, I was reclassified and was now called “ma’am.” I never liked to be called that name. It did not sound respectful to me. But it did give me pause, showing me that even though I still felt young inside, others were perceiving me as a person moving over the hill and down the inevitable decline.
I never hear the word “citizen” used when referring to younger people, and there seem to be only a few benefits coming with this senior title. Receiving the occasional little discount, just for being of a certain age, can be a bit of a perk. Collecting Social Security is a definite benefit, but except in rare cases, this government check alone cannot provide the senior with real security. Instead, after retirement, there are often severe financial hardships.
So no, I would rather not be called senior citizen! If I must be labeled something, let it be a title with a more positive spin, like “elder.” This is a designation that seems more dignified. I think of the ideal. The elder in the family is valued and respected for his or her wisdom and life experience.
This more respectful old-age approach exists in other cultures. In Korean and Chinese families, reverence for one’s elders is held as the highest virtue, deriving from the Confucian tradition. Within Native American families, it’s common for the elders to be both seen and heard, as they pass down their learnings to the younger members of the family.
But, sadly, this ideal is not particularly a part of our American value system. We tend to ignore the wisdom that comes from a long life of experience, and instead appreciate advanced technology and how much data we have accumulated. Too many elders are cast aside and all but ignored.
So, here we are, aging boomers and beyond who never thought we would get old and are now wondering how best to deal with this stage of life, one that is so undervalued by others and, maybe, by ourselves.
Some suggestions to better embrace the last third of our lives:
Take good care of yourself, living a healthy lifestyle with a good diet, frequent exercise of body and mind, sound rest and sleep, and a network of pleasing social contacts.
Feel your gratitude, daily. Focus on counting your blessings, instead of complaining of what is gone or lost or not to your liking. Complaining makes us “sound old.”
Keep learning. Brains, like the rest of our body, wear out if we don’t use them.
Explore fully what spirituality means to you. What is the bigger picture, what is your life purpose, why are you here still?