Old people have been around for a long time. They are masters of longevity, having outlived youth and middle age. I once shook hands with an 83-year-old custodian, whose burly grip was inescapable. He had worked a farm for the majority of his life, and his powerful hands were still seasoned with that required strength. The robust part of his life, which he carried from sun up to sun down for nearly 40 years, all began at an early age. As a kid he thrived on climbing the tallest trees, grappling large branches in order to scale to higher heights, all for nothing more than exercising his sheer durability. Old people can share a million of these moments of their childhood. And yet, as great as their accomplishments may be, when they’re seen hobbling along at a snail’s pace, they are still labeled as one thing: old.
Often nothing more, nothing less. Just old.
Why is youthful a word, but oldful isn’t? Oldful could carry the similar type of value that youthful has. But, unfortunately, while we see young people full of exuberance, we see old people full of…old. For some reason, our thinking doesn’t take us beyond their slow, shuffling, hard-of-hearing pace. So, old is a word detached from the past. It connotes a cemented state of deterioration. I’m not referring to our parents or grandparents—those whose histories we are quite familiar with, but rather the elderly out there who are complete strangers.
Old people need to be recognized. They’ve been youthful. They’ve made their contributions, and have sacrificed their time. They’ve resolved countless conflicts, and have lived through times of global tragedies. They’ve ridden their bikes through mud puddles, made millions of snowmen, danced like there’s no tomorrow, and have kissed their lovers in the rain. Everything you’re doing, they’ve done more. In essence, they have carried the torch. They have proven themselves to being oldful.
Right now, you seniors aren’t moving like you used to. You’re not as tall as you used to be. Your skin has spots. Your hair is white, receding, or just plain gone. You have cataracts, crackling knees and knobby knuckles, an aching back, and countless accidental releases of trumpeting gas. You drive slowly (if you drive at all). You are slow. The word old sheds any past youthful attributes. You don’t have a prayer escaping “old”. It’s almost like a scarlet three letters that you must wear in public until your last days.
Yet, amongst all of this deterioration and slowness, how do we get the youth to even begin to believe that you were once younger? How do we get them to believe you once chased toads into murky ponds, or sat beneath railroad trestles, holding onto the enormous wooden support beams just to feel those exhilarating vibrations sent down from a thundering freight train? How do we let the world know that you are more than just old?
We create a national holiday, and then you guys wear a shirt. That’s what we do. We’ll call it Old People Day. If you’re 75+ years old, you qualify. (You young puppies at age 74 will just have to wait a year.) We’ll print t-shirts that have a picture of you on the front, at around age 10. Around the age when time stood still. Around the age when your youth was king. You’ll wear this shirt for the world to see. Instead of impatient people standing behind you in line at the grocery store, there’s a good chance they’ll now be understanding and curious.
In fact, to make sure they get a glimpse into the hidden treasures of your youth, on the back of the shirt it will read:
“Tap me on the shoulder, and I’ll tell you a story.”
Copyright Ros Hill 2016