I’ve had a bit of fun over the past few weeks acknowledging that I was to turn (and now have turned) 65 on my birthday in mid-February.
To be honest, I’ve kidded about my “advancing years” since I started qualifying for “senior discounts” offered at eating establishments and other retailers starting more than 10 years ago. Checkers assume a person qualifies if he sports gray hair. And the age for qualifying has steadily declined over the years. Many have granted me a discount without even asking if I am actually a “senior adult.”
What I discovered a few months ago is that a person needs to be ahead of the game as 65 approaches in order to get set up for Medicare coverage (now my primary health insurance) to begin the first day of the month she (or he) turns 65. Signing up for Medicare is not so complicated, but selecting supplemental insurance to cover prescriptions and the things Medicare might not fully cover requires some research and comparison shopping.
Perhaps not surprisingly, my mailbox was flooded with appeals from what seemed like dozens of insurance companies who obviously knew my age and were more than willing to sell me Medicare supplement policies. And these appeals are still coming! When friends inquired about what age I was turning on my birthday, I usually gave this hint: “Well, my Medicare policy kicks in at the beginning of February” or “My Medicare health coverage started this month.”
Turning 65 has not turned out to be as big a deal as I once thought it might be if I lived long enough to reach it. As a youngster, I attended a lot of visitations and funerals for relatives who were still in their 50s when they died. My maternal grandfather died when I was a youngster, for instance. I didn’t fret too much about dying myself, of course. When I was 7 or 8, I assumed it would take forever for me to reach 20, let alone 30, 40 or 50.
It was easier for me to quip about being a senior adult before I actually turned 65. I understand that “senior” is the moniker many people feel I deserve or have earned by achieving my current level of longevity. More regular memory gaps have reinforced that identification for some people. I know I’ll never run a four-minute mile at my age, or even come close, but I could never have done that at any age!
Now that I have reached my current age, I am starting to realize that the connotations of labels used to describe me, my peers and others who have lived longer than I really should be updated — if used at all.
On occasion, it may be accurate to use adjectives like old, aged, senior, of advanced age or even feeble, but people between the ages of 50 and 150 as a group have every right to object to their use to describe a whole segment of the general population — our segment!
Acknowledging my current age is a matter of honesty. If all the insurance companies already know how old I am, I would be a fool to lie and think I could get away with it. But people like me can help our own cause by not helping perpetuate some of those things people think — and say — about us.
We’ve all had dear friends who described themselves as “older than dirt” or used some other phrase of hyperbole to acknowledge they are not as young as they once were. In truth, most if not all the dirt on earth predates every living creature.
Self-deprecating efforts to help people understand our own advancing years may seem like no big deal to many of us. One of the marks of maturity, after all, is to be comfortable in our own skin — our own bodies. God made each of us and, by his grace, he has enabled us to live as long as we have.
I like the idea of getting rid of some descriptions of events — even in church and denominational life — that call people elderly when they do not see themselves that way. For instance, why offer events like “senior” adult conferences? (One such event in Missouri has dropped “senior” from the name.)
I have attended such events before because of my work, even when I technically did not qualify to attend as a senior adult. But I have observed and heard things that have given me better insights in how to relate to people older than myself and how to develop as a mature and productive person as I’ve grown older.
We all have heard people who — because they were older and were being left out of plans, activities and events —pronounce, “I’m not dead yet!” Usually they have done so, not in anger but as a reminder.
The fact is that we all have something to offer others and God whether we are youngsters, teens, younger or middle-age adults — or people like me and older. God, after all, created us this way.
And we’re not dead yet!
Bill Webb is editor of Word & Way.