Day 9: your feelings on ageism
I grew up in a home with four generations living under one roof. My grandfather’s aunt lived with us until she died when I was about eight. I remember sitting in her room and listening to stories about what it was like when she was a child. She was over 90 years old at that time, which means she was born sometime in the 1860-70s timeframe. Aunt Mary was a living, breathing history lesson and I cherished the time we spent together. The fact that she was old simply meant she had more life to talk about. It never frightened me or made me think less of her. On the contrary, it made me respect her even more.
I guess that’s part of why I’ve never understood how anyone could discriminate based on age. Older people bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the mix. Younger and newer is not always better, and (to paraphrase a line from Skyfall) sometimes the old ways are the best. Perhaps youth does have the advantage of being quicker both mentally and physically, but that doesn’t mean that older folks are necessarily slow.
Perhaps we as a society have lost touch with the notion of learning from our elders. When we lived in close nuclear families, the elders held the history of the family in their hands and chose to whom they would pass it along. That’s how it was in my family.
As a woman, I look at ageism in a different way. As I get older, I notice that I’m becoming part of the scenery rather than standing out as the attractive female in the room. Older women are often passed over professionally and are rarely seen as desirable and interesting. We are judged by our appearance often: lined faces, gray hair, and wrinkles make us look old, but they make our male counterparts look “distinguished “. It is sad to me that young women have the issue of being sexualized and objectified, while women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s struggle to be seen as attractive, competent, and worthy — let alone in any way sexual.
There have been times when I’ve overheard people talking about my older musical colleagues and how they were “too old to play anymore”. I was appalled to hear such blatant disrespect for these men who had achieved brilliant performing careers. Just because they’re old they should stop playing? Just because they have lost some of the facility and technique from their youth their musical voices should be silenced? It was painful to listen to these ignorant people talk about their displeasure at having to listen to these “has beens” who were my heroes. Didn’t they ever stop to think that these artists needed to continue to play as long as they could because it was their whole life?
Why are the young so valuable and the old so expendable? Why can’t we make room for everyone to have a place? We could learn so much from each other if we did.
I look forward to the day when I am the old woman sharing the stories of my youth with my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I’m excited to be a piece of history for them like Aunt Mary was to me. Her stories are still alive to the extent that I can remember them. I am a link to a time nearly 100 years before I was born and to a woman born into the US in the decade after slavery was abolished. That’s an amazing legacy to carry and pass along.
I’m reminded of an old phrase I’ve heard many times since my childhood: age ain’t nothing but a number. The oldest among us will always have something to offer as long as they are alive. Let’s not sweep them aside before we have the opportunity to learn from them.