While checking out at my local supermarket the other day I was asked by the 20-something cashier if I wanted a senior citizen discount. I replied that I did not yet qualify for that discount but that I would like a discount for the smug way in which he asked me that question. This pointed out two things to me. The first is that I’m clearly identifiable as a senior citizen, despite my efforts to keep the gray hairs on my bears closely shaven in hopes they will not be as noticeable. Secondly, and more importantly, that I’m not that keen (keen being one of the words that I’m sure tips off folks that I was born prior to the hip-hop movement) to be seen as old.
This is a distinction that I think many of us who are growing older run into. Left by myself, I really don’t feel that bad about getting older. The losing of hair, the wrinkling of skin, the aches and pains, I can handle that. However, being seen and therefore judged by others on how well I’m doing the graying thing is a different story. The opening lines of this story always begin with “These kids, they just don’t get it.”
I realize that most of this drama unfolds only in my head. It is somewhat of a relief to remember that most people are too busy with the details of their own lives to give even a passing thought to another person, even if they are old. So it’s possible that young Mr. Smug was not reacting to my senior citizenship; perhaps he just learned that he had to work overtime, was being put on lavatory duty, or any other number of possibilities that had nothing to do with me and my grumpy old guy routine.
I may have to face the fact that not wanting to be seen as getting older is a classic form of psychological projection. A tip of the hat to Freud here as he postulated that thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings we cannot accept as our own are dealt with by placing them on the outside world and attributing them someone else. Or as the great sage Pogo said:
As someone who considers himself to be a somewhat reflective person it’s hard to admit that I might still be reflexive at times and reacting to my own internal struggle with getting older. Additionally, as a cancer survivor who has made it to the five year mark, I like to think that I now see every new candle on the cake as a triumph not a tragedy. And yet, there’s still a something about being seen as old that prods the aging actor in me to want to make a scene; to act indignant. (Ironically, this was the same show I put on back in the day when a 20-something cashier would ask to see my ID before buying alcohol.)
It seems that the circle of life completes itself when the youngster, trying to come off as older, meets up with the senior, trying to cling to youth and both react not to the other but to what they imagine the other is thinking. It’s all so much work. Next time, I’m just going to take the senior discount. While we’re at it, let’s raise the discount with each passing year until at age, say 85, we actually get stuff for free. Can you dig that scene?