Age: Just a Number?
I’m going to be blunt. I think we’re screwing ourselves over.
I think we’re screwing ourselves over in far too many ways, in the broad sense of our environment, in the more individual respect of overwork and under care, and in numerous other ways that I mostly avoid thinking about in an attempt to remain optimistic.
But recently, I’ve been thinking about one specific thing that we do as a society that I believe is quite detrimental.
I’ve been thinking about how we deal with age, particularly on the senior edge of the spectrum.
In some ways, we create a lot of accommodations for our elderly. We give discounts, create age specific programming, and construct entire buildings devoted to ensuring their well-being and comfort (ideally).
On the surface, it doesn’t look too bad.
No, we may not revere our elders like some other cultures, but we do take care of them. It may not be personal, and in some cases our systems fail, but we’re still fairly comprehensive in our approach from basic needs to age-specific social activities.
Yesterday I came across and ad for seniors Zumba classes - specially crafted to be easy on the joints.
And that’s all great.
Because the reality is, as humans age, our bodies do tend to fall apart. We stop working, and lose our social outlets. We generally need support on multiple fronts.
And really, after contributing to society for all those years, I’d say we’ve earned that discounted coffee.
But here’s the thing. These people that we’re so considerate of, that we create special programming for, that we classify as a vulnerable sector and volunteer our time to take care of - these people are us.
Us in however many years it takes to reach the status of being old.
And while the programs and support are important and really quite valuable, at what point do we consider ourselves a recipient?
I, at 21, need support. I am mostly housebound. I can’t work or drive, and am quite isolated. I may not have earned anything through years in the workforce, but my physical limitations are similar to a stereotypical 80 year old.
My grandfather at 80, however, is completely eligible for those supports. But he doesn’t need them. He has various health issues, his body aches, he needs to sleep more than he used to, and he has to be a bit more careful when pulling boats to shore at his cottage, but he is perfectly able to live a full, independent, and social life.
And that’s great. It’s fantastic. That shouldn’t involve any sort of problem.
But there is a problem. It’s so big that it comes up in almost every conversation.
The problem is, he thinks he’s old. Everywhere he looks, he’s being told that he’s old.
And, let’s face it - he is (sorry Zaida).
But the thing is, old isn’t a bad thing. It just means that someone has been alive longer than a lot of us. It’s not synonymous with decrepit or useless.
Somehow, though, with all of these accommodations, we’re giving him the message that he’s done. We want to take care of him, and it tells him that we don’t think he can do it himself, let alone take care of anyone else.
We’re saying that he’s done contributing.
And that’s just wrong.
In his case, it’s wrong on all fronts. Not only is he capable physically and mentally, he’s also capable emotionally, intellectually, and in so many other ways.
That’s not the case with every 80 year old. Many struggle in some of all of those categories.
And that’s normal. If we’re lucky, we’re all going to age. And at some point in our lives, are bodies are going to become faulty.
It’s great that we have the resources to make our struggles as comfortable as possible.
And it’s great to have the option of sitting back and ‘enjoying our golden years’.
But to say that that’s our only option, that we’re done once we hit a certain age, or once our bodies start to give us trouble, is ridiculous.
I need the accommodation now. I still have something to offer both myself and the world, and if something were holding me back, it would be a lack of resources and support.
My grandfather is eligible to use the accommodation now. He still has something to offer both himself and the world, and if something was holding him back, it would be the perception that he doesn’t.
I think the resources are great. I think they’re important, and they need to exist. But maybe we need to take the focus off of a certain number. Maybe we need to provide accommodations for those who need or want them, and leave it at that.
We may be old, we may be young, we may be perfectly healthy, we may be extremely ill, but ultimately, we’re still us.
We are individuals who have been on this earth for varying amounts of time, with varying degrees of strength and health.
And as long as we’re here, we’re never done.