Life Manual, Chapter 65: 65 years and 18 days old

Caution: These manual entries reflect one human being’s experience and state of being in the 65th year of life. These observations may have no relevance whatsoever to anyone else, but they may be useful as a yardstick against which to gauge one’s own status on the way to 65 and beyond.

I grew up seeing 65 as a metaphorical cliff. Time eventually pushes you off, no matter how organic your diet or how many miles you jog every day, and when you land at the bottom, you have become irrelevant. Sure, groups like AARP have tried to convince American society that people still have a lot to offer, skills, talents, knowledge, and even wisdom after that age. But my recent experience suggests our society, especially the younger crowd, isn’t buying it. Madison Avenue and most American purveyors of material things, and the mass media that carry the advertising messages cling tenaciously to the key demographic: 18-49. I worked in media twenty-five years and did stories on how we treat people in this country as they age. Somehow, I neglected to prepare myself to enter that zone.

Actually, the irrelevance starts creeping in before 65. About ten years ago, after my hair had turned from brown to completely white (I thought it happened a bit prematurely :-), I offered my considerable journalistic experience to Maine’s public broadcasting service as producer and host of their TV public affairs program. They invited me in for several interviews and  pumped me for suggestions on how to improve the program. Then, near the end of the final interview, the guy in charge of hiring looked at me and said, “You see, Mark, we need to hire someone younger to attract younger viewers (read key demographic),” and that was that.

Yes, I’m still irked by that. And by some other behaviors I’ve experienced more recently: the kid who asked me if I needed help getting my grocery bags to the car (was he just being helpful?), the cashier at the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum who assumed my companion and I both got the senior discount (it’s great to save money, but I wasn’t 65, yet). This week, as I stepped up to a computer terminal at the library to search the card catalog , a staffer approached me before I’d even hit a key on the keyboard and asked, “Do you need help with that?”

No, I didn’t need help with that. And I still manage to dress myself in the morning. I walk an average of five to six miles a day, do a lot of woodworking, mow my lawn with a manual, reel-type mower (it’s better for the grass), read voraciously, write op-ed pieces and books, and my blood pressure (thanks to medication) is 120/72. My weight is a little high, but revised standards indicate I’m no longer obese. 65 +18 days ain’t bad. I feel as good as I did eighteen days ago, before I stepped off the cliff. Now I need to figure out how to reclaim my relevance in a society that doesn’t want to accord that status to people with white hair.

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