The first instance I can remember about being classified as old came one day when I stopped at Wendy’s for lunch. I was in my early fifties at the time. An young man who was most probably still in high school took my order and when the total was displayed on the register I told him that he must have forgotten something because the total was a bit less than it should be. He said that it was correct but it was lower because he gave me the senior citizen discount. I felt offended! How dare he think that I was a senior citizen. I was tempted to show him how a senior citizen could jump over the counter and give him a black eye. However, I thought better of it and didn’t say anything. Hey, ten percent is ten percent. That money could go into my retirement account.

As time went on I encountered more of society’s preconceived notions towards aging. The most egregious were in the work force. Once I turned fifty it seemed as though every employer thought that I was now brain dead and I had to fight for every real job that I got. It seems as though people today feel that anyone over a certain age is only fit for jobs such as door greeter or cart boy.

But today I experienced the most demeaning age based perception of all. Today I went for my annual physical. I absolutely love the current doctor I have. He is extremely capable and treats me like a real person, not a dollar sign. But one of his nurses is another matter. A few minutes after signing in, the door to the doctor’s inner sanctums opened and a nurse called “Kenneth”. I rose and walked towards the door. As I reached the door the nurse said “this way sweetie.” This way sweetie? Did I look that old to her? Couldn’t she see the vibrant fully alive young man in front of her?

We walked to the scales and she said “stand up there sweetie.” As I mounted the scales my shoulders slumped and I could feel the weight of almost sixty-eight years bearing down on my. “Now let’s measure your height sweetie.” My shoulders slumped more. I measured a full four inches shorter than I did last year! I know that people shrink a little as they age but four inches is not normal. The repeated “sweetie’s” were taking their toll. “Let’s get your weight sweetie.” The years bore down more heavily. I couldn’t bear to look at the reading on the scales. Surely it must have been ten pounds more than it should be.

We walked into the examination room and she said “jump up on the table sweetie.” I’ll show her! I literally jumped up on the table. However, I overdid it and flew completely over the table and landed on the floor. “Sweetie! Are you O.K.?” As she helped me up I could feel my back rounding at the shoulders and I could feel the old man’s hump developing as she helped me onto the table. “Let’s take your blood pressure sweetie.” 200 over 150! “Did something get you upset today sweetie?” Little did she know!

Just then the doctor came in. He looked at me as said “Ken! You look like hell. What’s wrong?” “Just feeling my age doc.” I replied. The physical went well and my spirits slowly perked up. The doctor said I was in good shape and that I had the body of a man in his forties. He told me to get dressed and the nurse would be in to escort me out. After I dressed, the nurse came in and said “Well sweetie looks like you will make it another year.” I looked in the corner for my walker and not seeing one made my own way out.

I realize the nurse thought she was being pleasant to the nice old man. But I have a real problem with people who want to classify me as old. I keep active, both physically and mentally. I enjoy learning new things and love the company of little children. I still want to work; that is if society will let me. I could always work others to death and I still can; it just takes me a little longer.

Society as a whole says that I should sit at home and “go gentle into that good night…” Dylan Thomas in his epic poem written for his dying father said,

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light…

Not only am I going to rage. I am going to kick and scream. I am going down fighting. The darkness will have to sneak up on me and catch me unawares. I intend to live this life the best I can. No rocking chair for me!

My favorite philosopher Satchel Paige said “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.” He was also fond of saying “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are.” Good words to live by.

As for me I intended to forge ahead despite society’s attempts to stereotype me. I don’t see myself as old. If you see me as old then that is your problem. If you won’t hire me because I have reached an age at which  you think I can’t contribute any thing more to society, then you are wrong. I still have a lot to contribute.

You can categorize me as old if you want. You can discriminate against me because of my age. You can try your best to make an old man out of me. Bring it on!

Do what you will. I can take it.

But Don’t, don’t ever call me sweetie!

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