May 25, 1997 in Nation/World

Gray Hair Doesn’t Define Senior Citizen

Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Revi
 

May is national Older Americans Month.

But who are these “older” Americans?

Current law says persons over 40 can sue for age discrimination in the workplace. Now there’s talk about lowering that age to 35.

In other words, if you’re not already “older,” you soon will be. Like it or not.

So what’s it like to be an “older” American.

I’ve never gotten it straight in my mind yet at age 62 that I qualify as a senior. It just never crosses my mind to ask for an age discount on meals or pharmaceuticals or travel or whatever. Apparently it works.

But just when does a person become a “senior?” Some business establishments, I understand, offer a discount at 55.

There truly doesn’t seem to be a very clear idea of what a “senior” is. And to me, that is the ultimate reality.

Because, for most people, as the years add up, digital age becomes less important - not more important. And labels like “senior” and “older person” are empty distinctions.

Mentally and emotionally, I still feel 30. And that is pretty much standard among the people I know. They don’t see themselves as limited in their prospects.

But some in society do think that way. It’s called ageism. And most of the guilty ones don’t even know it. One day it will catch up with them, if they last that long.

Meantime, for a fresh perspective on age differences in America today, Jim Meyer of Spokane has this to offer: “Nobody whistles anymore!

“That’s one of the big problems with society today,” laments Meyer, a retired jack of all trades.

“When we were growing up in the ‘40s and ‘50s,” recalls the Spokane native, “our songs all had melodies with staying power, and we could whistle away our disappointments.

“Today’s youth, even if they could find the melody in their music, haven’t learned how to whistle.”

Outside of that, Meyer, 63, says he doesn’t see a lot of difference between the younger and older sets. “People,” he observes, “are who they are regardless of age - but young people can’t whistle.”

Simply put, that philosophy pervades older people’s thinking about themselves and their peers, as well. We are all just people. And our important differences have little to do with age, race, or ethnic heritage.

Anyway, the point is, others may see older people as a great gray mass, but they personally detest being stereotyped by any means.

Older individuals are not uniformly endowed with a rocking-chair mentality and limited physical attributes, any more than younger people are automatically blessed with superior wit or physical attributes. In short, superior is as superior does.

For confirmation, I need look no further than the members of my aerobics class. Among them is a good friend who finished Bloomsday fourth in her age group among the thousands who ran.

She was disappointed with and apologetic about her fourth-place showing. She had hoped to do better. But she was so busy building houses for the needy in Latin America, traveling to Russia, running around the country, entertaining her eight children, and countless other projects and chores, she literally did not have time to train properly.

Even so, she can still outrun everyone else in the aerobics class of about 50, and she works out with weights equal to those used by the youngest and strongest men.

Any average young tough who might be obtuse enough to tackle this lady because of her age would get his clock cleaned in a flash.

On the other hand, there is no sunnier-dispositioned, cheerier, caring individual than this dynamo.

That’s the whole point. Older people are individuals. Not an amorphous mass. And like everyone else, older individuals hate to be minimized, underestimated, and taken for granted.

You really are what you think, what your state of mind tells you that you are. And nobody can tell how old somebody’s mind is by looking at their gray hair or counting the digits in their age or their wrinkles.

Who we are is not a matter of digits. Who we are is what’s inside.

, DataTimes MEMO: Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes on retirement issues each Sunday. He can be reached with ideas for future columns at 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes on retirement issues each Sunday. He can be reached with ideas for future columns at 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review


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