With my sixty-fifth birthday just behind me, I felt some waves of giddy excitement. Although I always “looked young”, I now was now officially at the midpoint of my sixth decade on earth. I secretly imagined some gravitas effortlessly spilling off of me. My second book was out; I was feeling positive about my unfolding wisdom and crone-ness. Also, on a more practical level, I was now legitimately an elder in the eyes of our fancy “fresh marketplace” natural food store. The store, which will go unnamed, is upscale, overpriced as well as organically and socially correct. Here I could now claim the bounty of my aging process—that 10% discount on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. It seemed only right. Although I had already received my discount at movie theaters, the validation of 10% here, at this place where I have spent much money, seemed justified. It was my due, on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, only. It was an absolutely fitting and proper response from the capitalistic system, in response to my entering sage-hood.
It was a Monday. Of that I am positive. I was rushing, not unusual at that point in my life. There never seemed to be enough time to relax into my over-scheduled, juggling of too many balls. I entered “the store” at an auspicious time; not too many customers were ambling up and down the aisles. Into my dainty, consumer-friendly shopping cart I placed the kale (curly-leaf, of course), coconut milk (original, non-sweetened), ground turkey for the canine family member, eggs (large, not the extravagant jumbo), and so on down the aisles I flowed. A few more items found their way into my cart, my energy upbeat, certainly now officially mature and focused. In seemingly record time, I wheeled my cart into the one open register aisle. Oh, not my favorite younger employee was working that register, the blond, thin-lipped young woman with skin coloring that reminded me of Elmer’s Glue. We silently, over the years, did not like each other.
I happily began placing my nutritionally correct items on the counter and realized I now had to announce my 10% benefit. As I tried to recall the words to express my need (senior discount), my mind emptied. I could not for the aging life of me think of those two simple words (senior discount). I got confused and thought for a moment perhaps I was in the Kripalu Shop, where the appropriate discount prompt was, “I am an employee”. I somehow knew, despite my creeping brain fog, that I was clearly not an employee here in this store. Long moments passed as her register clicked away, reducing my announcing time.
Out of nowhere, with all the maturity and focus I could muster, I managed to say, “I am elderly”. I AM ELDERLY. That’s what I said. I am not making this up. The Elmer’s Glue girl’s eyes widened in disbelief. As if her widening eyes could open the floodgates of my hysteria, I started to laugh. I AM ELDERLY. My laughing tumbled into itself, opening up the doors of every giggle, every laugh restricted and contained within my senior body. It was all I could do to remain standing. I could have laid on the floor and wailed with glee and disbelief. I AM ELDERLY. The more I lost control of my behavior, the tighter and more controlled Ms. Elmer became. We were quite the pair, this elderly woman, me, roaring and doubled over with hysteria, partnered with Ms. Elmer, constricting each movement, gesture, and expression.
Somehow, through a grace larger than myself (left to my own devices, I might be there lying on the floor, laughing), I was able to swipe my credit card, officially receiving my 10% bounty. Grabbing my recycled box now filled with healthy and expensive, yet 10% cheaper food, hugging it to my chest in the illusion of control, I stumbled out of her register aisle, toward the door, and tumbling through the electric door and laughing, doubled over my grocery box. I staggered toward my Prius, another politically correct lifestyle choice.
How I managed to turn on the car and drive away from the “fresh marketplace”, I will never know. But I did manage to drive away and head toward my home. Over the next days, I couldn’t hardly repeat this story to my family and friends—I couldn’t get through I AM ELDERLY without wholly and totally losing my composure.
So when you see us senior citizens around and about, be gentle. Be kind. We are doing our best. We are finding our way forward, into the unknown, fumbling for words. We are, in fact, elderly.
What any of this means, how it might reflect on my relationship to aging, I have zero idea. I do know, however, that a great way of staying forever young is to laugh—those snorts, those out of control belly hoots, truly are the doorways to such freedom.
Speaking of freedom, here is one of my personal heroes, our Joan Baez, who appears to be living inside the realm of The Elderly with remarkable grace. Singing Bob Dylan’s 1973 song, “Forever Young”, let’s together breathe in the fullness of her benediction.
*Song written by Bob Dylan, 1973