Yes, I recently turned 65 and I have officially become a "senior citizen." But, though I have reached this pinnacle in life I often wonder: just what is a "senior citizen," why to we aspire or despise becoming one. And, just why is it a milestone anyway?
According to The Free Dictionary a "senior citizen" is: "a person that is 65 years of age or older." They are also known as "THE ELDERLY". The term refers to people whose stage in life is generally called "old age" thought there's no precise way to identify what has become to be known as the final stage of a normal life span. According to The Oxford Dictionary a "senior citizen" is an elder-aged person: a person who is at least 65 (or some other significant age determination). According to Merriam-Webster a "senior citizen" is an elderly or aged individual, especially one that is retired. According to my grandkids, a senior citizen is just an old person; plain and simple.
People are said to be "senior citizens" when they reach the age of 65 because that is the age which most people retire form the workforce. Employers and trade unions recognize 65 as the age where pensions become available. The U.S. Government recognizes 65 as the beginning of the final stage of a normal life span by providing entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. Business offer special pricing to those who have reached this milestone.
The term "senior citizen" was coined during a 1938 political campaign as a euphemism for "old person" and now is a common vernacular in government legislation and in business.
All this said, I see being a "senior citizen" as a crossing point when a person moves from middle age to old age in society's eyes. Wow! This is something I never thought I'd be saying. I am officially an old person. How did that happen?
Remembering back to my younger days the thought of getting old wasn't much more than a desire to do all the things I was just too young to do. As we all did, I constantly heard the excuse that I was too young or not big enough to do whatever my parents or older cousins were doing. Though I realize the truth behind the excuse, I most generally knew that when it came from my parents it was because I was a nuisance in whatever they were doing. But back then, I was just a snot-nosed little kid who was belligerent enough to at least get something, even if it wasn't exactly the same as what they were partaking in. Usually by whining or constantly asking or a combination of the two, I knew that I could wear down my parents enough to, at the very least, obtain some sort of alternative offering. For example, if they were drinking coffee and I got this wild bur up my butt and thought that I wanted to have some too. In return, I might get a hot chocolate as an olive branch just to shut me up. If they were playing Yahtzee (especially when I was too young to even understand the game) I might get to roll the dice for them every so often.
But these disruptive victories were minor in comparison. Even with persistence, I was unable to overcome most of these age hurdles by merely having a tantrum about them until I got my way. Oh, I may have gotten appeasements but certainly nothing much more than that.
Regardless of the whining and crying, I was always, "Too young! Too young! Too young!" So, I often stewed and ran off to be with myself and my thoughts. When I did, I wished that I could will myself into being older. I would pout and storm but growing old never came fast enough. And, like with most of you reading this blog, I was forced to wait and wait and wait, no matter how much I stewed, until I actually aged and/or matured to the point where I was included.
Looking back at my desire to be older, I realize that my wishes were purely selfishness. I wanted to do the things that I thought I wanted to do probably because of that lame old excuse that I couldn't control; being "too young." I was a petulant child in that respect. Yet, because these were my more formative years, some of the most horrifying moments that I had while growing up were actually related to growing aging and growing older. Let me explain...
As a child, dying was a huge phobia of mine. The thought of dying literally scared me to death... well almost. Looking back, it seems that the younger I was, the more frightened of death I was. This probably had something to do with the fact that I had very little religious upbringing. All I had as a definition to death came from discussions with my parents and what I saw on television. I had nothing to hang my hopes of an afterlife on (if there so happens to be one). Therefore, the vagueness of dying and knowing what mortality was all about was left to my imagination. In other words, death was what I perceived it to be. And, death's finality worried me to the point of having nightmares about it that kept me from being able to sleep until I was too tired to worry any longer.
There were many nights that I spent hours lying in bed thinking about life's inevitable end. I knew nothing (and basically still don't) about what happens to the spirit when you die and my parents certainly weren't much help in that regards. They didn't have the answers either and it was obvious in their comforting attempts that they were just as clueless as I was. Mom would always tell me that I would go off to heaven to be with Jesus but I was smart enough to know that this was nothing more than an attempt to sugar coat the fact that she didn't know.
So, I would lie in bed and wonder: was death an eternity of darkness and lonely consciousness? Would I be alive in spirit but still trapped inside a decaying physical body? Would I be buried in the ground, in a box; my eyes forever shut, not able to move? Was hell really this fiery place where, if I was bad, I would be enslaved forever? Just how bad would I have to be to go to hell? Or, was there really a heaven and would I rise in spirit to live forever?
For years, my young mind worked overtime at night about dying and it didn't help it that my parents insisted on turning out the lights when bedtime came. No! Darkness and being alone didn't help matters much. Not at 5 years old. I was already plunged into an unwilling darkness and left to my own imagine of what I perceived death was, and I assumed that it was similar to what I was already experiencing: infinite darkness and loniness.
And, thus came my claustrophobia (also known as: a fear of being enclosed in a small space), my fear of darkness, the boogie-man hiding under my bed and a myriad of other child-created phobias that followed me into adulthood. Funny how the mind of a child works... right?
I think that most of our phobias manifest themselves when we are young because we are left to our imaginations. Don't you? I still have many of them today and as I look back, every one them came from those times when I was pushed to accept little in the way of a supportive answer for my little noggin to understanding. I know that laying in bed, all alone, with nothing other than my uninformed juvenile thoughts was when the fear of death was at its highest for me. Funny... I was literally "too young" to understand my what bothered me, which I presume, resulted in developing the phobias I have continued to be plagued with.
Now let's not knock my folks for being bad parents because as most parents do, mine used my phobias as tools to try and get me to behave, obviously not knowing the consequences of their actions. Don't take this last statement the wrong way by thinking my parents were abusive, because I was not an abused child in any way, shape of form, but my parents often made my fear of heights, of water and of dying worse by using it against me, as they so my of my other fears. Often times, though they meant well in their actions, they were counterproductive. "Don't go in the river... you'll drown!" "Don't play out in the street... a car will run you over!" "Don't climb that tree... you'll fall out and kill yourself!" All were warnings with great intent to heed but each and every one had lasting impressions on my psyche that caused me to worry later when the lights were out and I was left all alone with my thoughts.
Hell, I know I did the same thing with my kids... I don't think that the excuses that my parents used on me or that I used on my kids were uncommon. It was just plain ignorance.
"I could die!" was what I worried about and that was exacerbated by the fact that I knew from what I was told by them that... "One day, you will die. We all do... eventually!" How uncomfortable for a child to hear...
Of course, the more severe nightmares that I had about dying usually came when a friend or family member passed away unexpectedly and that was exponentially compounded when these parent / child talks occurred. I know that they meant well but their consoling me with baseless answers did little to comfort.
I remember running out of my bedroom, crying my eyes out after having a horrific nightmare about dying when a friend passed away. Mom really struggled to answer the many questions that I had. To this day, I hear myself crying out, "What happened to Bobby? Where did he go?" I was 6 at the time and really didn't have an inkling of knowledge about death. Though I must admit, her holding and hugging on me usually did calm my nerves enough to eventually put me back to sleep, it did little to alleviate future nightmarish episodes.
Thanatophobia (aka: the fear of dying) was a huge issue for me, especially in my early development. I know this because it was so prevalent in my dreams that it interfered with many stages of my adolescent growth and held me back to a point where I found myself kind of sissy-ish. I still have no idea of what happens to the spirit, if anything, when we pass on and it often rears its ugly head in a dream or two.
My fear of dying did not stop me from wishing I was older. Actually, the thought of being older was something I aspired to (less the eventual death part, of course). But, most of the reasons for wishing I could immediately age were always rules-based.. By "rules-based" I mean there were either laws, statutes or some other source of discipline that validated their reasoning. A few personal examples:
- If I could immediately turn 13 that meant that I could stay up later than 8:00 or 9:00 at night.
- When I was going through puberty, if I was 16 that meant that I could date girls.
- When I was 14, adding just one more year meant an opportunity for a driver's permit.
- At 15, just one more year meant a driver's license.
- At 17, one more year meant working a full time job, no curfew, finishing mandated schooling and being out on my own.
- At 20, one more year meant legally drinking, gambling and generally being responsible for my own actions.
Oh, how I couldn't wait to be older...
Funny thing is, when I grew older and reached those age milestones that I couldn't wait to happen it kind of seemed anti-climatic. I suddenly had the privilege to do things but once I was there, I didn't necessarily have the desire to do them. That was probably because I didn't wait for most, For instance, when I was 21 I was already married, had a child, a job and the downed a few beers. The excitement of turning that magical age had worn off by the time I got there.
What changed was my sudden desire to stop the aging process. When I finally became "old enough" things changed. I was happy at 21. I had my health, an adult life and very little in the way of age requirements preventing me from doing stuff. That being said, suddenly youth became just a little more important to me. Growing older meant more responsibilities, declining abilities and eventually old age and death.
Then, the proverbial shit hit the fan. My first wife and I divorced for a myriad of reasons, most notably because we were both too damn young to be parents. Before I knew it, I was a single parent with limited income, limited knowledge and extremely limited resources. I needed to be a more stable role model for my son but I also knew that I didn't know how to do that. I was in this quandary where I was still too young because I didn't have the answers I needed to have though I'd reached that point in my life where I was old enough to accept the responsibility that I had before me.
Money was tight, my job was not very fruitful in its earlier days with regards to salary, the responsibility of being a single parent weighted down my shoulders to a point of near depression and I had to make the best of things.
This was one of my lowest moments in my life, at one point my son and I lived in a garage that had been poorly converted into an apartment that was miles away from any conveniences, but it was all that I could afford. After rent, bus passes (my 65 Impala no longer ran) and babysitting there was little in the way of providing quality sustenance and other necessities. We dined on mac & cheese and Spam most nights and spent time playing at the park for recreation. By then, I had alienated my parents and friends because I didn't have time for them. I was self-centered and drowning in my own pool of despair with the only salvation being that of the well being of my son. I felt useless and doubted myself at nearly every turn. If it weren't for the fact that I had Jason to raise and take care of, I probably would have given up. It was because of him that I strived for more than what was directly before me. felt that I had to do better and become more responsible.
Yeah... growing older wasn't all it was cracked up to being.
By the time I was 25, my life seemed to turn around, but it was not all roses, peaches and cream. I had earned enough to afford a two bedroom apartment, had a car that barely ran that I bought off my grandmother (it was simple transportation) and had remarried.
But wait... there's more. My new wife and I had a child on the way. My job was doing okay, though making ends meet was still a long way away. It seemed like I was always to be the low man on the totem pole in a field where apprenticeship lasted forever. Still, I was doing better than when I first turned 21 and I was feeling a little bit better about myself with every passing day. I still had my youth, though I was abusing it but living life with some purpose... even though I still had little direction or vision.
It wasn't until I was 30 before I truly grew up, That was also when the see-saw of life teetered. I had this epiphany: "What in the hell am I doing with my life?" Living was exponentially difficult, especially now that I had 3 (yes 3) children to support. I love them to death and they all mean the world to me. That being said, my second marriage wasn't at its best, my job was going nowhere due to the fact that I needed to put more of a concerted effort in my work than I had been, which was nearly impossible since my second wife was in nursing school that required her to study and me to take a more substantial role in the the kid's upbringing. Money had remained tight and again... I started down that road to depression.
My mind spun every day. I worried about me! I worried about the kids! I worried about paying the bills! I worried about happiness in general! I had little in the way of a legacy, living from paycheck to paycheck and at times using public subsidies to help make ends meet. I was an embarrassment to myself and I felt embarrassed around others. I was more unhappy with my life choices and wanted to be young with a do-over but that was not possible.
I was nothing of the person I had aspired to being. I was unhappy with a marriage that required more giving than taking and being a selfish person that didn't fly. I felt destined for mediocrity, at best, if I happened to be luckier in life after 30 than it had been before it. I hadn't applied myself well; hadn't found my niche in life and desperately needed to do something that would provide stability for my children while giving me some semblance of self-worth.
Though it was hard, it was necessary. When I hit the aging milestones that came after that dreadful 30 number. I found significant changes in my life... some for the better and some for the worse. Suddenly, I was afraid of growing older again. I was questioning myself at every turn, or so it seemed. Why had I rushed through life like I had? Why did I think that being older meant being happier? Why? Why? Why?
I found myself struggling with the desire to be younger again. I wanted do-overs! When I looked back on the journey I had already taken, I would have traveled a different road. I would have been more patient in life! I would have shown more confidence in myself! I would have been the attorney or weatherman that I aspired to be when I was young!
I was suddenly starting to grow up. And that's what I desperately wanted and needed. It wasn't growing older... it was growing up.
I've said many times that "at the age of 30 is when most men mature and become adults. It's not at 18 or 21 like we are led to believe." I see it in most every male I meet.
So, let's get on with the story...
At 40, I found peace with myself. I was married again and marriage number three was and still is different than my other two. I found the real love of my life with Janice even though I wasn't looking for her at the time we met. But it was kismet! She was the one true friend that encouraged me to be myself and helped me to be a better person. I could talk with her, share my concerns, enjoy my life and deal with its consequences all with her love and support and not with drama and fatigue. I was able to apply the effort that was required to progress to a level of self-worth that satisfactorily fulfilled my yearning for attention. With her, I was in a happy place. And, though it probably wasn't an ideal relationship at first, it sure felt like it... It was warm and comfortable.
My job had turned into a career. I was being mentored by the namesake of the company that I worked for, had become a member of middle management and I was finally earning a decent living. This was all because I had this wonderful and loving companion by my side.
My love for my three boys grew exponentially too. They were growing into young men with decency and compassion for life, as what I had. I couldn't be a prouder father and suddenly I loved every minute being so.
Unfortunately, what I didn't have was common sense. I made excuses for not being active and enjoyed life maybe just a little bit too much. As a result, I was slowing, getting fat on complacency and reminiscing about the good old days. But, that didn't matter.I could fix that later in life, right?
By 50, I felt ancient. Having lived half a century I was finding ailments everywhere I turned. Enthusiasm and ambition were waining as health issues reared their ugliness. I had become extremely overweight, my body had created type II diabetes, breathing was obstructed from developing a mild case of COPD ( a result of smoking) and I was just plain fatigued all of the time.
In my mind I had become officially OLD, on the downhill slope of life and wondering why I had abused my body as I had. My worries weren't enough to change my habits however. On top of that, my career was becoming tiresome. I was on the road half the year, traveling to cities within the states that I had hoped to visit one day, but not in the same context or for the same reasons. My week started on a plane most Sunday afternoons, only to stay in moderate hotels. I rose on Monday morning in a different timezone and in different surroundings, had breakfast, arrived for meetings and to offer advise and training throughout the day, only to get back to the room by 8 or so to answer emails and to make note of the things I had to do the next day. The stress was literally killing me.
At 59, I had to slow down. My mind and body were falling apart. I had already suffered a heart episode, had a couple of stents put in my arteries to keep me functioning. I'd suffered from an odd case of mild depression, for which I sought professional help to nip in the bud early.My career had become even more demanding of my time and was less fulfilling than it ever had been before. All the stress... all of the headaches!
I focused on very little other than staying afloat in a churning sea of corporate restructuring that I felt overwhelmed in. It was so bad for me that I even began doubting my own core values. My health was at an all time low point. I saw no future other than a major heart attack or a complete mental meltdown (or both) so I did the one thing that I felt that I needed to do before losing it completely.
My doctors and friends were warning me of the results that were eminent if I continued as I was. I saw no future other than a stressful demise and that scared me. So I took a stand and told the world that "enough was enough!" I decided to retire.
Who (or whom) would ever have thought that I would have purposely retired before my 60th birthday? Me, the kid from a poor family that grew up in a blue collar environment. Certainly not I! Yet, here I was in the summer of 2011, living on an IRA courtesy of a great ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Program), basking in the sunlight of Bend Oregon, enjoying my elder years with the only worries in life being that of penny-pinching enough to make sure Janice and I had pidgeon-holed enough funds to live on the rest of our lives, and of course, our health.
When we retired, our grandkids were getting older. We had 3 by then: Kaileigh, Kiara and Kaiden. Our three boys were doing okay; still growing up but doing so with the same vision that I had after hitting that 30-year mark. Today their roots are firm and what has sprouted stands strong.
After penciling in my travels, we loosely figured that I had flown nearly 1.5 million miles over the course of my career and spent nearly 3,000 evenings in hotel rooms. That's a lot of "away-from-home-time" no matter how you look at it. The last thing that I wanted to do in retirement was to fly somewhere to stay in a hotel room. Home is where I wanted to be, with maybe an occasional jaunt every now and then, but my one desire was to be at home, where I felt comfortable and could sleep in my own bed and wake up to do and see the things that I wanted to do and see.
Now, I am 65 and officially a "senior citizen". I have suffered through a heart issue, a slight mental breakdown, a bout of skin cancer and aching feet. In the past years since retiring I've lost 90 pounds of fat and a few pounds of muscle (if I ever had any), gained 55 of what I lost back and lost 30 again (I am the champion human yo-yo when it comes to weight). I am 40 pounds away from being at the goal weight, which (for all of you math statisticians) tells you that when I retired I was 100 pounds overweight! Yes, I said 100 pounds!
My abuse to my body has taken its toll on me. I am still tired, slow and forgetful - more so the slow and forgetful. I can no longer run, though I haven't the desire to do so, I can not stoop over without grabbing hold of something to help me back up and I frequently suffer from CRS (Can't Remember Shit); names especially elude me, as do the details of the latest movie or book that I've read.
A University of Michigan study published back in 2011 says that the average male who retired at 65 or before lived 17 years past their retirement date, thus making the average age of death for a man born in 1946 somewhere between 79 and 82. That is approximately 5 years longer than a similar study done in 2000, which reads that the average age of death for a man retiring at 65 was around 75. The newer study claimed that their data showed that "at older ages, adults now stay very active in their social network, very active intellectually in their hobbies / activities and in their community organizations." This along with the: "advances in medicine and awareness of healthier lifestyles has improved longevity greatly." Well, I'm hanging my hat on medicine to prolong my life because my "healthier lifestyle" has only recently begun.
Of course, there are those who live to be 100 and those that pass on due to illness months and years before they should; some on days after their retirement begins. As I see it, if one plays the odds, then I most likely have about 10 years left to experience life on this earth. 10 years is not a long time especially when it seems that time is passing by more rapidly than ever.
I bring up death and mortality not to be morbid or morose about the inevitable. Instead I am writing about life because I am blessed to have enjoyed all that I have for as long as I have. Even with all of the stress, I am most at peace today than I can ever recall being. I know that I mentioned being tired, old and achy but those are all physical attributes more than mental. Mentally, I am calm, cool and satisfied.
That being said, I still have worries about this world that are destined to take many more seconds off the time clock that I have left. I hate politics, politicians, the news media and selfishness so I try and distance myself from them. That probably has been more beneficial than not in my peacefulness these past few years.
Age is a relative term and ageism is alive and well. Though, I do not welcome being old or growing older, now that I am 65, I find that many people my age still try to ignore their birthdays. I find that to be an oddity. I don't know why someone's age is something to be embarrassed about. We all grow older so why pretend we don't? That kind of vanity, fortunately has alluded me. I know that every time I have a birthday, especially these days, I feel grateful to be standing on dirt and not buried under it.
No, I look forward to the rest of my life now that I am 65 and relish in the benefits. Look! I am benefitting from Medicare and Social Security even though I was warned 35 years ago that both would be bankrupt and long gone before I retired. I get discounts at grocery stores (usually on specific days and with only minimal savings of maybe 5-10%), I get discounts from restaurants (though they are usually accompanied with having to order from a selection of dishes that are half the size but 85% of the price) and I can walk into a senior center and join with pride.
This is another off topic point that came to me just before publishing:
It wasn't long ago, when my parents were still alive, that I realized that they depended on me in a similar way like I depended on them when I was a kid. I found myself lending money to them, handling projects they were no longer capable of doing and making sure that they got to where they needed to go. Dad, who was always the good looking, "I can do anything" athlete wasn't frail but lacked the energy and stamina like he did when we were younger. Mom was so riddled with physical ailments that she could not do much more than cook, clean and take care of herself.
I remember thinking some 15 years ago (maybe more) that it was funny how the tide had turned... I was the smarter, more physical entity in the family and not them. The people I had always looked to for all of the answers and care that I needed were now looking to me for the same things. It wasn't a sudden turn of events; rather a gradual change that no one noticed. I don't think they realized it. At least they never said anything about it until just before they passed on. But, isn't it odd?
Today, that same thought is resonating in my brain only the roles are reversed. I am 65 and though not dependent on my kids, just yet, find them to be more intelligent and one's looking out for dear old dad's best interest. When did that change? How did they become smarter than me? I thought growing older made you wiser not frailer.
I am sure that in another 5-10 years they will fully have my back like I did my parents. God! I love them for that!
There are benefits to growing older though. I can take naps and go to bed at any time I want, even 7:00pm. I can leave my turn signal on if I want: I can forget to zip up my pants without be thought of as a pervert; I can wear black socks and loafers with striped walking shorts and a plaid shirt; I can rewatch movies that I've just seen because I've already forgotten the characters and plot; I can walk around with stains on the front of my shirt and not care what people think of me; I can remember the good stuff about life and forget the bad things; and my doctors are often more caring and understanding and willing to slow down their explanations of my ailments and tell me in plain English.
I savor every day. I no longer wish to get older, nor do I wish to be any younger. I wish to keep my memories, which are quickly fading, though I hate to remember the tougher times. I have a higher self-esteem and a lower tolerance for cruelty. I cry at movies, I cry about stuff I've read, I cry about memes on Facebook, but I do it all with a man-like flare.
I've recently learned that I suffer from a mild case of geriatric depression, though many who reach my age are much worse off with it. I found out that there's even a test to see how bad off one is. It's called the Geriatric Depression Test. I thought I was done with taking tests...
Now that I am officially a senior citizen I cling onto life to experience the joys of living. I find more warmth in being with friends and family and I especially love exploring new places. I mind often wanders when I'm left to my thoughts and it does I find myself wonder "what if", though I have serious bouts of the old geezer "what should have been?"
I look at the kids in school and often roll my eyes, wondering how they are going to rule the world. I think to myself that my generation and the generations before me has made life pretty easy for them in comparison to what we had when we were growing up and then realize that my parents and grandparents thought the same thing about my generation when I was a kid. Just like they did, I see disrespect in the actions of the younger generation and am happy that I will not be around to observe the consequences of their actions. But, didn't my grandparents do the same thing? Is this contempt just a part of old age? Do "senior citizens" like myself have disdain for progress once we realize our days are numbered?
How sad is it that I am now a part of that world... or is it?
Now that I have turned 65 and a "senior citizen" the only real thing that I regret about being older is that maybe I could have been a better person when I was younger. I probably could have and most definitely should have. Still, I have no regrets about being here, except for the fact that I wished some body parts and functions worked better than they do.
And, death no longer scares me like it did when I was a kid, though I don't look forward to it either. I find myself looking for answers to the question of an afterlife if it were to exist. I cling to science, to prayer and to whatever else I can but don't fear the inevitable anymore. I just turned 65 and I've officially become a senior citizen!