“I’m confused”—that’s a line from the movie Moonstruck, said by the grandfather who is called “Old Man” by the family’s matriarch. The family is sitting around the table arguing about love, marriage, betrayal and change. The Old Man starts to cry. “What’s the matter Pop?” asks his son. Then the Old Man says it, ”I’m confused.”
Many viewers may have missed that line, but I pondered it for decades. Why was he confused? At first, I put it down to old age, maybe dementia. Now. I know different.
At midnight on September 15th, I turned 71. I am a hotbed of confusion.
Like the Old Man, I still have a place at the table. But I want to be secure as to what that place entails. I understand his dilemma. Should he have spoken up with his opinion? Would he have been thought of as wise…or just a meddler?
Did he have the right to sit at the head of the table by virtue of his age? Or was it right that the younger family members took charge, allowing the Old Man a place out of love or largess while stripping him of the power to contribute to the conversation? No wonder he was so confused that he could only think to cry.
Of course, my confusion does not cause me to cry…it causes me to shout. But still I am confused.
For example, one of my birthday events was walking from Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Ocean City, a beautiful 17-mile walk along the beach and boardwalk. The walk was listed on Meet Up and attracted 11 people, only one of whom I knew—the leader. There was one fellow older than me…four women in their 30s…and a few men and women in their late 40s—all veteran walkers.
Here’s what happened. The older man dropped out early without saying good-bye. The young women walked faster than me and left me in the dust. The rest of the group walked the route with me, but because I was the slowest, the leader walked with me to make sure that I didn’t get too far back…but I made it!
The group walk seemed to be a metaphor for my role in a larger society.
This ability to keep pace far better than my elders or even folks of the same age, but not as well as those younger is confusing.
Where exactly is my place? I am not ready to vanish. I must admit I can’t keep up with the fastest and youngest of the group, nor with my younger self.
How about my looks? I get this comment all the time, “You look great for 70 (now 71).” What exactly does that mean? I’m confused. Does it mean that I should look lousy by now, but I don’t? Or that my looks surprisingly have stood up to the ravages of time? Or that I look good, but can never compete with the looks of anyone younger? I never heard anyone say to anyone, “You look great for 25.”
I’m not job hunting, but if I were, I would not only be confused but I would confuse HR people, as well.
Recent articles on the older workforce are confusing. Many commentators lament the loss of the older workforce’s experience and know-how, claiming that age discrimination is pushing us out. In contrast, other workforce reports assert that issues of age are no longer off-putting because recruiters realize that our longevity is giving us extended peak years.
Even the government is confused. The Secure Act, now before the Senate, recognizes that we will work longer, and it is drafted to extend the number of years we can contribute to retirement plans with tax deferral. But our legislators are confused as to whether that should be age 72, 75 or some other age.
Here’s the scoop.
Boomers born between 1946 and 1964 feel great, are vigorous, hold jobs, start new businesses, volunteer, go to school, travel and experience life in all its glory, as no generation has ever done before. Still, we are aging. Different parts of our bodies hurt, depending on the day and the season. Friends start leaving the neighborhood, moving to over-55 communities or to be closer to family. People all around us are retiring and treading their next steps on uncertain turf.
And occasionally we read on Facebook or get an e-mail or an invitation that there is a funeral. We are shocked…we are scared…and we are also surprised, “So young,” we say. The deceased is in his/her 70s. And so are we. It’s confusing.
On this first day of being over 70, I leave for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, which celebrates innovation through the arts, with my husband of 48 years. We will see four shows in one day.
Tomorrow, I will take a course on how to build a YouTube Channel that offers information on successful aging. The next day, I will speak to assisted-living activity directors at their annual conference on the topic of life engagement. I am supposed to be an expert on successful aging. I feel like a fraud. I don’t even have a grasp of my own aging. I will tell them I am 71. As I do, I will wonder how that’s possible. I feel so young!
Yes, I am confused. But I am not crying. On the contrary. I have begun to believe that this age confusion is part of a cultural change. Perhaps it’s right to be confused because dwelling on the number of years you have lived makes no sense. I don’t want to create my life’s journey based on the date of my birth.
I believe that right before our eyes the number signifying our age is slowly disappearing as a significant factor in who we are, what we can do and what the culture demands of us. In this sea of change, the place of elders in society is evolving. Evolution is confusing, but also exciting and strengthening.
My Birthday Wish
When my friends reach 70, I hope they will have a secure and confident place in society, with clear and noble purposes to fulfill.
I hope they will enter a life stage where they have at least an equal place at the table.
I just reviewed my Philly Fringe tickets. I am seeing Inge’s iconic play Come Back Little Sheba…a 60’s folk concert…Subterranean, a performance art piece…and Late Night Snacks featuring drag stars from The Bearded Ladies troupe. I chose these from among dozens of others. Yes, my tastes may be considered eclectic or, to some, “confusing”—but they have been fine-tuned over seven decades of theatre experience. And that’s nothing to cry about.