It happened such a long time ago, I can’t remember the details clearly any more.
Shortly before retiring from college teaching, I got my first “geezer” messages. I am using geezer as meaning an old person, not just a male Englishman who likes drinking, football, and violence.
Several decades ago, as I paid my lunch tab, the clerk asked innocently, looking at my hair – or maybe it was my wrinkles, my slow walk, my something or other, “Shall I give you the senior discount?”
I turned around to see who she was talking to. There was no one behind me.
I wanted to shriek: “I’m no eccentric old geezer of the female variety!” I paid and walked out in a huff.
For weeks, when I passed a mirror, I glanced at the baggy, saggy woman reflected in it, sucked in my stomach, and threw back my shoulders. I could lick geezeritis. I was not just another little old lady-writer in pink Nikes stumbling down the hill.
For a time, I yielded to the sinister message the entire culture was flooding me with: that this next period of life, being a geezer, was a dead end and had no redeeming features. Its appearance, its non-activities, and its noninvolvement with life shaped the size of the ever-smaller tunnel I was being ushered through.
I was being told clearly, blatantly, that it was best to go gently into the dark night and carry a bottle of aspirin in one hand and hair dye in the other. Becoming old was a disaster.
Then, sometime during the day, a friend I hadn’t seen for several years, said, “Katie, you haven’t aged a bit in 10 years.”
Another friend said, “Katie, you look younger than your pictures.”
I preened my soul feathers. The jowls under my cheeks disappeared suddenly without liposuction. The wrinkles smoothed out around my eyes. The world was good. I lapped up the compliments like Kansas soil during a rain after a long drought.
I was beating old age after all.
I knew I would never be a geezer or geezer-ess or geezer-anything. I would be forever coltishly young, kicking my heels in the meadow, with agile muscles and joints, slim tummy, smooth skin, energy without measure.
And that’s the way it went for several years, my resisting being considered old as if it were some rank contagion to be avoided at all costs – until I realized who I was and who I thought society thought I should be didn’t mesh. I was growing old.
My coming out as a female geezer was slow, but with time, I learned to accept a number of things about being old. Here are just a few of them.
• It is not treason to look my age. Aging is not a social and personal disaster, a disease nobody should admit having.
• Accepting aging does not mean retiring from life, only from certain aspects of it. It does mean plunging into life in a different way.
• Aging is a stage in life, an important time of life for those in it and for younger people hopefully watching their elders navigate through this stage of life. They will model their own aging after what they have observed in parents, grandparents, and older friends.
• Even though church and society may devalue its elderly – actually often waste them by setting them aside or encouraging them to pursue trivia – we as elders should encourage our age cohort to pursue activities that engage intellect and spirit.
I am convinced that in these conflicting times we need elders, especially those who see the world steady and whole and who can offset the zeal of the young with wisdom and inner stability. We need each elder according to his or her gifts and talents. Each still has something to offer others – if they are given the opportunity despite frailties and foibles.
Final words: Do not go gently into geezer-hood. It can be one of the most rewarding times of life.
—Katie Funk Wiebe is a retired English professor, former Christian Leader columnist, and author of many books. This article first appeared on her blog, “Second Thoughts,” Feb. 13, 2013.