Monday, October 11, 2010

Retired And Too Old, Say What?

Friends had warned me it would be coming soon, and I didn't believe them. Was sure they had to be mistaken.

But they weren't.

The AARP solicitation for membership came two months and a day before my 50th birthday, and I was stunned this group was contacting me. I knew the multi-word name this acronym stood for, and the R really annoyed me.

I am nowhere near being "out of use", "too old for work", "withdrawn from circulation", "isolated", "removed" or whatever else that dictionaries call retired these days.

I am also not old, let alone "too old," even if plenty of younger people may think I am.

At least, I certainly don't feel like it. I feel 21. Actually, make that better than 21, because I now have the benefit of 29 additional years of experience.

Since my birthday back in August, two more pieces of AARP mail arrived. One was lumped in with a free mailer. The other I don't recall. And I can't tell you what was inside either one, because I never opened them; I shredded them. But in the first envelope I received before my birthday, there wasn't a note or letter.  Nothing that even said, "Well done." Only a bland white form with boxes to tick--membership categories of one ($16), three ($43) or five ($63) years.
And for Heaven's sake, doesn't turning half a century warrant more than that?

All due respect to AARP, but it felt like yet another reminder of how little our culture values growing older--except for the profit that might be made from it.

And as far as I'm concerned, entering this third quarter of life--this autumn, if you will--is such an important occasion, it's worthy of more than a membership solicitation. It deserves a rite of passage.

After all, now is the time when we finally can reap what we have sewn, so it's cause for celebration. Maybe even a coronation.

I've always liked the idea of a crown.

Okay, granted, maybe that's over the top. But author and gardener Rose G. Kinglsey didn't seem to think so--at least, not when it came to autumn in her garden.

"Autumn is indeed the crowning glory of the year," she wrote, "bringing us the fruition of months of thought and care and toil."

And are we human beings not just as worthy of such ennobling attention?

Because I, too, have had months of thought and care and toil--50 years worth. I have also finally fruited. Or, at least, have begun fruiting. So I know things. Cool things. Things you can't possibly know unless you've actually lived through them.

I may not have the physical youth I had at 21, but I possess so much more, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. That's why I don't wish to be categorized as old or retired or otherwise. It feels ageist, as if my culture is unceremoniously shoving me into a box--to be kept there until 65, when I will then be flopped into another box labeled "Senior Citizen," until I am ultimately dumped in that final box, which ends up in the ground.

And maybe that's my issue with all of this--the unceremonious-ness of it all. Where is our society's recognition of the joy and honor of the journey of aging?

Ceremonies and rituals focus our attention on the divinity of something--the deeper, more significant meaning of it, and they show our gratitude for what we've been given. Their purpose is to empower our imagination and awaken our spirit. And when endorsed by the larger community, they affirm our value within --and support by--that community.

Unfortunately, when the only thing my community does is solicit me for money when I reach part two of my life, I don't feel empowered, affirmed or supported.

But I know this group didn't mean to offend me. I also know that I'm responsible for my reaction to their solicitation. No person or group can make me feel insulted unless I allow it.

Our society is what it is; I have to accept that. And if I want to feel empowered, affirmed and supported as I grow older, I will have to create those feelings for myself. Doing things on my own always makes me stronger anyway.

So…where to get that crown?

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