With my 50th birthday behind me, I’m getting asked a lot how it feels. What is it like on this side of 50?
On the one hand, I have lots in common with teen me. I feel childlike in a bunch of ways.
On the other hand, I’m not shocked or surprised that I’m now 50.
I think having children around helps. Children are little mortality markers. When they’re growing up so fast it’s easy to see the years ticking by. It’s also nice for me because I’ve got my parents next door and I can see my place in the generations. Right now, I’m 50, my mother is 72, and my oldest child is 22.
Oddly it helps too that I’ve always liked older people. Even in my teens and early twenties I preferred the company of much older people. They seemed more interesting, more confident and self assured, less self obsessed. I hope I have some of those qualities too.
Despite that, my comfort with being 50 and my like of older people, I’m not sure if I’m ready yet to call myself “old.” And “middle aged” sounds yucky too even though I’m clearly there.
Do we need new language around aging? Or should we just reclaim the terms we’ve got, make them our own? I enjoyed reading Mary Beard on reclaiming the label “old.”
“Professor Mary Beard wants to reclaim the word “old” in the same way as “black” and “queer” were turned into positive words.Speaking at Cheltenham Literary Festival, the classicist said reaching old age should be a source of pride and suggested Agatha Christie’s character Miss Marple could be a role model. The 59-year-old also said attempt to pay someone a compliment by saying they did not look their age was “one of the weirdest bits of double-think in our culture”. “I’m really trying to do that to reclaim the word old. I think about it in terms of other kinds of reclamations of vocabulary we’ve had over the years, such as ‘black’ or ‘queer,’” she said, according to The Daily Telegraph.“I’m rather keen for a campaign to do that for old, instead of ‘old’ instantly connoting the hunched old lady and gentleman on the road sign, or the picture that you get on the adverts you get for senior railcards.“I hope by the time I die, old will be something that makes people fill with pride.”
Old is beautiful, and often wise – Mary Beard is right to reclaim the word, Michele Hanson writes, “It’s so deeply ingrained. I’ve been banging on about the wonders of being old for about 20 years now, and it hasn’t made a smidgin of difference. Back then, people would say “You don’t look 52!” On and on it went, and now it’s “You don’t look 72”, but it’s a backhanded compliment. As Beard says, what’s wrong with looking 72? Why not just say “You look fabulous today,” and then shut up? You young pillock. I blame our culture. Elsewhere, wrinkles would be rightly seen as a sign of wisdom and experience. Here they mean dreary, unattractive and an increasingly ghastly burden, who’s going to require your time or money or both to look after, as he/she turns inexorably into a dribbling, toothless, demented nothing-person.”