When I started working here at Live Oak Adult Day Services, I was in my 30s, and I was often the youngest person in the room. When I would melodramatically lament that I was about to turn 38 or 40 years old, the seniors here would laugh and say, “You’re so young. You’re still a baby.” That was a nice stroke to my ego. Now I look in the mirror and see the face of one of those dried-apple dolls looking back at me. Or the deeply-etched face of Mother Teresa—without the saintly smile.
While Christmas shopping at the outlets a few months ago, the teenaged clerk at a store rang up my purchase and, without being asked, sweetly said, “I gave you the senior discount.” Yikes. I am officially a senior citizen, and apparently that is no secret. I wondered about our seniors here at Live Oak: when did they realize others see them as older? Was it traumatic?
Ben says he clearly remembers the day he went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to pay his registration and the clerk helpfully announced in a loud voice, “You are old enough to qualify for a free senior citizens’ identification card.” Ben says that he was mortified, and told the man, “I didn’t feel old when I walked in here, but I sure do now.” James says he has been old for so long now that he barely remembers being young. Vivian had an interesting perspective, saying, “Sometimes I feel like I’m forced to act older than my age. People have certain expectations of seniors, but I actually see myself as younger.”
It helps when there are possibilities for the older and younger generation to interact. We are lucky to have many students come here to fulfill their school community service requirements. On occasion teenagers will arrive in a rather nervous state—having had no experience with seniors. They seem to expect our seniors to be bedridden, cranky or unable to carry on a conversation. It is quite a revelation when they find themselves laughing, having great discussions, playing games and having such fun that they frequently continue visiting even when they have completed their obligation. They are fascinated by the seniors’ wartime experiences, 60-year marriages and coping mechanisms for dealing with the loss of family and friends and careers. In turn, the seniors are awed by the kindness and overall goodness of the younger generation.
They had been harboring their own misconceptions about misbehaving or dangerous youth, and are thrilled to reach across the years and make new friends.
I recall a day here when it was rather quiet during lunchtime. In a silly mood, I asked, “If you were a superhero and could only have one power, would you rather fly or be invisible?” This amused everyone, and most of the seniors expressed the desire to fly. Ninety-five-year-old Molly insisted she would rather be invisible, laughing that it would be fun to sneak around and spy on people. Then she was quiet for a moment and said, “Actually, I feel pretty invisible most of the time, anyway.” What a profound comment. No matter the age, each of us wants to be valued and, most of all, noticed.