Yesterday I received a 78 year old friend’s Christmas letter in which she referred to herself and a companion as middle-aged. Now, I have a reluctance, a hesitation in designating myself as old, but I don’t consider myself at 69 as middle-aged anymore. In fact, I practice thinking of myself as being ‘almost 70’ so it won’t be such a shock when that time actually arrives. This is a false practice as I simply can’t get my head around it, feeling almost as youthful and active as always and even, after a shower and without my glasses on, looking as I always have in the mirror. I practice, nonetheless.
I am observing the language people my age use when referring to the past. Some say ‘when I was young,’ some say ‘when I was younger.’ For myself, I can’t quite get the word ‘young’ out of my mouth. It is as if, the word being a fluffy thistle seed about to float off in a breeze, a little bird flits in and plucks it away just as it is about to launch into the great blue sky. There the ‘young’ word floats as I hear my voice saying ‘when I was younger,’
So, when do elders change their language? When do I change how I speak about myself? What goes into it– physical condition, philosophy of life, cultural attributions, sense of a short future, a sense of acceptance? Will it happen naturally or does one put an effort into it? I have noticed my peers and I will refer to ourselves as old ladies but as a joke. I think this is practice, maybe it helps to pretend we are getting old even though we really are getting old, so as to lessen the jarring brace of confronting the loss of one’s youth. There is grief.