So here I am, at the ripe old age of 56. And a half. At some establishments, that qualifies me for a discount. AARP has been after me continuously for 7 years; I haven’t joined, because I don’t think of myself as “retired person.” And then, a couple of weeks ago, I received a special offer from Time magazine: in bold, highlighted text, I was offered a generous “senior citizen” discount. It really was quite an excellent deal.
I threw it away.
I know that the whole newspaper/magazine industry is in dire straits, so I understand their reaching out in any and every way possible. But I was surprised by my reaction, even though it was a mild one (as most of my reactions are): I was insulted, as if to say, “How dare you?”
It took a few moments for me to realize that my being insulted was itself an insult to others. That’s another reason I’m not ready to be a senior citizen: I still haven’t grown up yet.
Part of me still buys into the cultural narrative that life is about youth and vitality, productivity and busyness, and retirement is the time when we finally sit back to enjoy the fruits of our labors. But not everyone can live out that cultural ideal, steeped as it is in assumptions of privilege. And for many, the so-called “golden years” are a time dominated by lament for what seems to have been lost: health, status, relationships, meaning.
In that way of thinking, some biblical proverbs seem almost incomprehensible. This one, for example: “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is found on the path of righteousness” (Prov 16:31, CEB). Or this: “Strength is the glory of young men; gray hair is the splendor of old age” (Prov 20:29, CEB). Glory? Splendor? No, our culture replies, gray hair is something to be colored so people won’t think you’re old. Ditto for every other visible sign of aging (pick your favorite).
The writer of Proverbs seems to view old age as an achievement, as the blessed reward of a righteous life. Our world seems different. We have technological means to prolonging life for its own sake, whatever its quality, and many people spend their later years harvesting a crop of bitterness planted long ago.
But neither should it be taken for granted that old age means loss and privation–not if we see life through the eyes of an eternal hope. Yes, our mortal bodies decay: even now, it’s becoming increasingly common for friends of my age bracket to joke and complain about what hurts or what doesn’t work. But that can be said with good humor and a sense of irony when one knows that this present life is not all there is.
If someone wants to call me a senior citizen, fine. I won’t take it as an insult, as if my life story was all there is, and the best parts had come and gone. No: my part in the larger story may close, perhaps sooner than I think, but what matters most is what happens after the page is turned at the chapter’s end.