A couple of years ago, just after Bernice turned 65, (a few months after I did) we decided to take a trip to San Francisco. It was a great experience for us, because we like to travel to new and different places, and it was always on our bucket list. Of course, on our first venture out into the rolling streets, we just had to ride the cable cars, a unique experience in the Bay City. We were impressed at the politeness of the young San Franciscans so eager to give up their seats for us. At first we thought, “What a nice way to treat tourists.”
And then we saw the sign! “These seats must be made available for elderly and handicapped passengers.”
These polite young hill dwellers were merely obeying a local bylaw. What was most horrifying to us was that we suddenly saw ourselves as others saw us: an elderly couple entitled to a little more comfort when riding the bus. We were SENIORS! How in heck did this come about? I may be 65, but I’m certainly able to stand on the bus as well as anyone 64 or younger. I’m not in need of special privileges, and I’m not a ward of the state, either. At least not yet!
Years have passed, and every day since then I’ve become more acutely aware of what it means to cross the sixty-fifth threshold. The government has seen fit to issue me a dark blue plastic card certifying me old. They’ve also seen fit to make my taxes much more complicated. (It would seem they want to make sure they get their cut before I check out.) I’ve been listed falsely as one of those driving up the cost of health care, even though statistics prove that I’m not. There are some who would curtail my driving. Kinder folks will say I’m pretty active “for my age.”
For my age, indeed! I’m as active as I like to be, like people in every age group. What I am is an older adult who is no longer in the workforce. That’s all! I spent 44 years out there paying taxes and building a nest egg, and then made a space for someone else. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.
Against my will, I’m now called a “senior”, for whatever that means. Do I have seniority over someone or something? I work in the volunteer sector with people who are much senior to me, if age is the criteria. Am I senior to my kids? God, I hope so. The truth is that I’m just a citizen who is fortunate to have lived 65 years, stepped out of the workforce and moved on to other things I like to do.
Back in the late seventies, I was privileged to meet Harry Mullens who was then the head of the Saskatchewan Senior Citizens Provincial Council. He spoke at length on many issues with regard to aging, most of which we still struggle with. Many would say he was ahead of his time, but he was simply a practical thinker and a believer in human dignity.
Harry disliked the term “Senior”, and I suppose that’s where my thoughts were born. He called it patronizing and demeaning. He said we are simply older adults. Some of us have health problems. So do younger adults. Some of us have ambulatory problems. So do younger adults. Some of us shouldn’t be driving. So shouldn’t some younger adults. Some of us have money problems. So do younger adults. The list goes on, but you see the pattern.
Harry was a wise man. Another thing I remember him disliking was the term pension. Pensions, he said, are deferred salary. Each of us, over a lifetime of work, contributes to the growth of the national economy. We set aside Part of our salary in a pension fund. Our employer contributes to the fund as well on our behalf. (At least they were supposed to, but apparently many didn’t.) Another part of our salary goes into RRSPs and savings. Then at some time later we can draw on that deferred part of our salary and do something else. And, as I said, make room in the workforce for someone else.
Whether it was intentional or not, the term “senior” has come to signify someone privileged and with special rights, when nothing could be further from the truth. Most of us are living off deferred income in the form of pensions and savings. We still pay taxes, and most of us do work for the community for no salary – work that would cost the community millions, or it wouldn’t get done. At the very least, we create jobs by keeping golf courses and curling clubs open.
We don’t clog up the health care system, and we are not more dangerous on the road than any other group. We’re not a segment of society that needs special treatment, just fair treatment. If we can stand in line, let us stand in line. If we can’t, your kindness is appreciated. If we need help, we’ll let you know. In the mean time, just remember:
We’re older adults. We live among you. And DON’T call me a senior!
More of Mick’s Musings – click on “Words and Thoughts.”