What a hoot it was when a couple of young women gave up their bus seats for us. Sis and I were holidaying in Sydney, in fine fettle, and were amused to get the first indication that we were ‘old’. It’s not like we were delusional about our ages – we knew that we appeared old in the eyes of some, but we didn’t feel old, and still don’t. Mostly, we just feel that we are different people from what we used to be. Many of those differences we like a lot, and a few not so much. Like every stage of life, really.
It’s a wee way on from Sydney now, and I have just experienced the first solicitous enquiry and extra consideration from a local bus driver. It was real live ‘old person’ treatment! I ride the bus to where I’m going every so often, because it gets me out of the cocoon of always being in the car. I see a diversity of people that I don’t otherwise see, and I have to do things in a way that I don’t usually do. For those who catch public transport as their main means of getting about, they’re already in that world. I work from home, however, so I have to pro-actively seek out ways to de-cocoon myself.
“All right there?” the driver asked, as I boarded the bus. I thought he was just being friendly. Upon putting the whole story together later on, I realised that I may have had a tiny fumble with my bus card before I swiped it. It didn’t even register with me, but clearly it did with him. Old person alert, it screamed! Afterwards, when I was preparing to disembark and was heading for the rear door, he called out to me that I could get off from the front if I wanted (there weren’t many people on the bus at that stage), even though there were a couple of people waiting to get on. Once again, I didn’t think much about it, but changed direction to take up his offer for no other reason than to be obliging, because he had made the effort to be nice. He then went on to say that that way he could lower the step of the bus for me, to make it easier to get off.
Wtf just happened there? It took me a while to process it. The extra attention genuinely puzzled me, until it finally dawned on me that he was being considerate to an ‘older person’. Wow – the first really seriously-felt hit about my age! As I’ve segued through my various life stages, I’ve been peripherally aware of the different ways that people engage with me. It hasn’t been that much of a biggie, as it’s not unexpected. I haven’t put all my self-worth into the staying-youthful-at-all-costs basket. I’ve consciously rejected the social conditioning based on the still prevalent patriarchal principles of a woman’s value mainly being in her youth and looks.
Yet, my first thought was “Shit, I’d better get back to the hairdresser and get more colour in my hair!”. I have been letting my natural colour emerge, which is now grey/white – far from the almost-black it used to be in that fleeting time of youth – and which I actually think is rather attractive. But, I had a nano-second of wondering if this had been a smart idea after all. I had been warned by other women that once we stop colouring our hair, we start getting the ‘old’ treatment. All the social conditioning I thought I’d rejected, came crashing back into the forefront of my thinking. That’s all it took for the never-far-away BS to make an ugly return – one forty-something year old bus driver, who I engaged with for around a minute of my life.
It was clear that my hair, whose colour I was very much liking before now, might have dealt me a bum deal. What else could it be? Was there any other ‘old’ characteristic of mine that could to blame here instead??? Panic! Then as quickly as the bullshit thoughts had come, I beat them back into place. My normal erudite way of thinking kicked in; “F*ck that” I thought – and all was well once more. It felt good to be strong again.
I’m not here for anyone else’s approval, and I don’t feel that being older is something I have to hide. I like who I have become. But the messages we get are that it’s not good to be older, especially for women (but not only). We’re encouraged to hide our age like a guilty secret, because the fallout from admitting to it is not exactly rewarding. We avoid using the word ‘old’ or ‘older’ about ourselves because it’s loaded with negativity. I’m not immune to this pressure, but I do reject it. I prefer to look at my age and myself squarely in the face, and own it – all of it (mostly). Yes, I get judged for being me in both good and bad ways, but when we ourselves fully own who we are, both privately and publicly, it’s amazing how much sting goes out of those judgements. Or, how quickly we can recover from a bus driver’s good intentions 😊 Those who judge us, will still judge us, but somehow they end up with less substance to get their teeth into.
I know I was not nice about older people when I was younger. That was the social norm. Seems like it’s my karma now to be amongst those who stick their heads up above the parapet, invite the norm to have a go, and then duck for cover – oops, I mean flip them the finger.
I can’t help what other people think, but I can help how I interact with them. If I get offers of assistance, I will graciously either accept, refuse, or be amused by them, whatever is appropriate at the time. My pride might take a few hits, but I’ve survived worse. However, if my would-be helpers get a surprise that maybe I’m not quite the ‘old person’ they thought I was, then I may have helped them in some way, too.
It takes a bit of nerve to defy the status quo when travelling the road past sixty – but I reckon that a bit of a nerve is something I do have 😊