My 70th birthday, coming up next week, presents an obvious topic for a post. But I keep putting off exploring my feelings about it, which may indicate how I feel. So, instead of naval-gazing, I’m reacting to pertinent recent newspaper pieces and a book.
An Associated Press story reported that a 69-year-old Dutch positivity guru has asked a court to officially change his age to 49 because “I want to be myself” and avoid age discrimination. He contends that since people are free to choose their own names and aren’t locked into the gender assigned at birth, he has the right to change his birth date. Although I chuckled when I saw the headline, I think he makes an arguable point. The court’s ruling is expected soon.
The always reliable Mary Schmich, my favorite Chicago Tribune columnist, wrote two recent pieces about age. The first considered whether 70 is old. “I’ve been conditioned by the social messages that from the time we’re young tell us that 70 is old and being old is regrettable,” she said at the top. “But the older I get, the younger 70 seems.” Her conclusion was lovely: “Call it late afternoon, a beautiful moment of the day, with plenty of time to get things done, even though it’s obvious the light is fading.”
A couple of weeks later her topic was how old is too old to be mayor of Chicago. Schmich was reacting to the comment by mayoral candidate Susana Mendoza, 46, about “having the best years of my life yet to give to public service.” Some called the statement ageist. Among Mendoza’s competitors are Toni Preckwinkle, 71, and Bill Daley, 70. (Broadening the discussion to the national scene, we can note that Donald Trump is 72, Nancy Pelosi 78, and two Democrats who haven’t ruled out another presidential run, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, 71 and 75, respectively.)
“Being 71 is not a debility,” Schmich wrote. “A 71-year-old can be as vital as someone who’s 41 or 51 or 61.” Vital, Schmich made clear, means having fresh ideas and the skills and energy to do the job.
What Schmich wrote was inspiring and encouraging. Not so the book The Widows’ Adventure. It made me angry.
Written by a then Chicago Tribune copyeditor, Charles Dickinson, The Widows’ Adventure was published in 1989. Although it is popular with readers — it gets no lower than three stars on Amazon — to me it seems to take for granted the silly old ladies stereotype. Two widowed sisters, Helene and Ina, are living irrelevant, humdrum, and pitiable lives. Helene is blind from diabetes. Ida, turning 70, already wears dentures. “Sisters were only 70ish, but the author seemed to portray them as 80ish,” one reviewer wrote. Helene and Ida decide to juice up their lives by driving Helene’s late husband’s car from Chicago to California, with blind Helene behind the wheel and Ina, who never learned to drive, navigating. What a hoot these old women are, right? Dickinson has sympathy for his characters, but I think he nevertheless patronizes them. Since I stopped reading a quarter of the way in, perhaps my opinion is unfair. Maybe by the end readers aren’t laughing at Helene and Ina. Maybe the tone is “I am old woman; hear me roar!”
Anger seems okay to hold on to now, at least until I’m past the birthday hump. Not anger at time or at my body, which, to be honest, isn’t as spry and fit as it used to be. Anger at attitudes. As the cliché goes, you’re only as old as you feel, and a date on the calendar can’t be allowed to tell me how I feel.
ANTI-TRUMP QUOTATIONS: 38TH IN AN ONGOING SERIES
"Trump's action seems to be unprecedented. There is no record of a president revoking such a pass from a reporter because he didn't like the questions the reporter asked."
— Washington Post story about the administration's trying to revoke the press pass of CNN reporter Jim Acosta