By Michael De Gale
May 06, 2008
In this season of rejuvenation and renewal, my friend celebrated yet another birthday. She may have passed the dreaded half way mark by now but since time has been a friend to her, that mark is not immediately apparent. Free of the sags, wrinkles and tiredness that is commonly associated with aging, she remains gracious, vivacious and fashionably appropriate. Perhaps out of mischief or maybe a temporary lapse in judgment, I did the unthinkable and inquired about her age. Needless to say, her response was quick, predictable and coy. “You don’t ask a woman her age”, she chimed; evidently cognizant of the negative connotations associated with extended longevity.
Recently, another friend experienced the loss of her father. The love and devotion he showered on his family in the living years was reciprocal and visibly evident with his passing. Out of concern and compassion someone asked how old he was. On learning that he recently celebrated his 80th birthday, she expressed surprise that he had died so soon, given that he was “still such a young man”. As society embarks on a never-ending quest to uncover the secret of eternal youth, there is an increasing intolerance for those no longer considered young in the traditional sense. This dichotomy befuddles me.
In our increasingly superficial and materialistic society, there is much to be said for the fleeting illusions of youth and beauty. Undoubtedly, youth is a time-sensitive window of limitless opportunities which, when closed, can never be fully reopened. In attempting to hold back the hands of time, anti-aging creams, extreme makeovers, Viagra, Hair in a Can and radical surgeries are all weapons in an ever expanding arsenal. The fact that some procedures have left many permanently scared and caused the untimely death of others, does not present a deterrent, even as the finished product is essentially superficial.
History is replete with examples of people being made to feel inferior or inadequate because of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and a litany of artificial constructs. Age is no exception. By refusing to embrace our longevity, we inadvertently contribute to and perpetuate our own marginalization.
It is increasingly common for people over forty to complain about age discrimination. In fact, a major communications company recently offered to “buy out” all its employees over the age of thirty and replace them with younger people. In essence, “old people” are becoming younger in more ways than one, none of which ingratiates us. Instead, the inherent value of maturity is greatly diminished, making room for the stigmatization and alienation of an increasingly large population. To stem the tide of our marginalization, we must vociferously resist the temptation to deny our age. It is not that we should abandon efforts to look young and healthy, but we must embrace the fact that we’ve lived as long as we have. By refusing to proudly claim the time we have spent on this earth even as we successfully resists the forces of gravity and time, we are essentially digging our own graves. Consequently, when we say, “You don’t ask a woman her age”, we are essentially saying, “pass me the shovel”.