Trauger column: Thoughts on becoming a senior citizen
I had the privilege of joining the official ranks of senior citizens recently. This is something I have been refusing to acknowledge. Why should I? It’s just another day. As the Mark Twain quote goes, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Unfortunately, I mind — or at least I did.
My birthday falls close to Election Day so for the past few months, my mailbox has been deluged with not only election material, but also information from a ton of health insurance companies peddling a Medicare plan or supplemental insurance. Each piece of junk mail I took as an affront; a reminder of the inevitable. Time does indeed march on — only it seemed to be doing double-time to me.
How could this be? Wasn’t it just last year that I was in high school and excited to get on with my life; to leave home and go on to college? Wasn’t it just last month that I turned 21 and my big brother bought me a giant — and I do mean giant — bottle of Chianti. Wasn’t it just last week that my first child was born? Wow — such responsibility. I swore he was never going to cross the street without me by his side.
I remember my mother telling me that sometimes it was a shock when she looked in the mirror. She said that inside — in her heart and in her mind — she still felt the same as she did when she was 18. But the eyes and face staring back at her did not belong to an 18-year old. I now know exactly what she meant.
So I began to examine why age was dragging me kicking and screaming into the inevitable. Three things jumped out. Stereotype, status and stigma.
Do a Google search and what images do you see? Groups of gray haired people playing cards, blowing bubbles, having coffee. In quite a few they have canes or walkers. Most of the stylized illustrations show hunched over people with walkers or canes. This is not the majority of senior citizens I know in this area. Most seniors in this area spend their time hiking, skiing, rafting, hunting, and yes — working.
It is time to drop the stereotype. Not all of us aspire to play bridge in a senior center somewhere. Many of us still hold down a full-time job. Some of us work because we enjoy it. Some work out of necessity. We can be found on citizen boards and doing other volunteer work — in addition to a job.
Others can be found skinning to the top of a nearby ski slope to get first crack at the powder that fell the night before, while others are joining multigenerational groups that are biking cross country. No matter our style or speed, we are all individuals. Don’t make us fit some outdated stereotype.
In many cultures, the elders are held in high esteem. That does not seem to be the case right now. Ageism is alive and well in our area. Perception of who we are, what we are capable of constrains us from being all that we can be. Just because an individual reaches a certain age, be it 40, 50, 60, 65, 75 or 80, does not mean they no longer have any intellect or value or that these things are diminished in some way. I have witnessed ageism in hiring and retention of employees — although we are a protected class. Seniors are often the brunt of jokes that would not be tolerated among other classes of citizens. We have a lot to offer, if we were allowed.
Face it. There is a certain stigma with aging. We aren’t as svelte as we once were. Growing old really isn’t a choice. You either do or you don’t. I am finally happy to be able to celebrate that milestone. A Facebook friend posted this the other day. I am sorry but I don’t know who the original poster was — perhaps you’ve seen it. It struck a chord, and that chord is true whether you are male or female
“We’re at that age where we see wrinkles, gray hair and extra pounds. Menopause has already appeared or is just waiting around the corner. We see the cute 25-year-olds and sigh. But we were once also 25, just as they one day will be our age. What they bring to the table with their youth and zest, we bring with our wisdom, experience, and good hearts. Everything we’ve been through to deserve every gray hair … raising children and pets, paying bills, going through diseases and illnesses, sadness and everything else life assigns us. We are SURVIVORS … we are WARRIORS in the quiet … we are women. Even if our body may not be what it once was, it carries our soul, our courage and our strength. We shall all enter this chapter of our lives with humility and pride over everything we have been through, and should never feel bad about getting older. It’s a privilege that is denied many.”
Those of us who are privileged to be called senior citizens should bear that title with honor and dignity; holding our heads high. We are warriors. We have been through a lot — much good, some not. We are thankful we have survived and we have much to give. Open your hearts and minds and allow us to share our wisdom, our love and our laughter with you while we continue to learn, expand and grow from the information, intelligence and companionship of our younger friends, co-workers and neighbors. Let us continue to be valued.
Kathryn Trauger lives in and writes from her hometown of Glenwood Springs. She has served the community as a member of Glenwood Springs City Council and chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, and she currently serves as the chair of the city’s Financial Advisory Board. Her column, Perspective, appears monthly in the Post Independent. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 970-379-4849.