Person 1: “Hey. Remember me? You were in my class.”
Person 2: “No, I’m sorry. I’m afraid I don’t. What did you teach?”
As we get older, we see aging in others, but we never age.
At least, we don’t see ourselves aging.
I remember going to my 35th high school class reunion a few years ago. A classmate was kind enough to host a gathering at his home for the handful who could make it. Around 30 of my graduating class of about 150 showed up.
It was a typical Arkansas October, so the weather was quite pleasant. The few of us who arrived early set up lawn chairs and coolers in the driveway and on the patio as a makeshift party location and began to reminisce.
As others arrived and got out of their vehicles and started the walk up the drive, in quiet voices we began playing, “Does anyone know who that is?”
This wasn’t meant to be funny. People had just changed that much. We didn’t recognize them.
When David Cassidy died, I was surprised at his most recent photos. He was an old man.
There was no reason for me to be surprised that Cassidy didn’t look like the 21-year-old heartthrob he was almost 50 years ago. He was 67 when he passed away. Old enough for Medicare, Social Security, and discounts at Luby’s.
But, for whatever reason, the way we remember people is as their younger selves. Perhaps that’s the way we want to remember those we’ve known a long time.
The photos we normally see in obituaries are of the deceased when they were younger. Sometimes, but not often, a recent photo is used of the person who has passed.
There’s just something about youth that’s more appealing than aging.
As I’ve gotten older, more and more I wonder why this is.
Youth does offer a lot. Specifically, it provides stamina, few if any aches or pains, not many cares or burdens, and the rest of your life ahead of you.
But, age brings wisdom. Not that we all use wisdom as wisely as we should. I certainly know that I haven’t. Each year we are given is an opportunity to encounter, engage, and resolve problems or issues that come with life. It’s also an opportunity to learn from good decisions and mistakes and make better choices going forward.
You would think that age would be held in a higher regard than it is. In some cultures, that’s the case. But not in the US. Whether it’s Hollywood or our own desire to remain ever youthful, we hang on to the idea that we would like to look the same as we did when we were young.
Plastic surgeons live in nice houses because of this. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m all for folks being left alone and allowed to make their own choices. But, I have a great amount of admiration for those who embrace getting older and could care less what other people think.
When I was a kid, virtually every newscaster on the network shows was an older guy. Today, it seems to be all about finding the youngest and most attractive person possible to sit at a news desk.
Now, I’m not passing judgment at all on those who are TV anchors these days. But, I will point out that once upon a time, the most trusted man in America was Walter Cronkite.
Uncle Walter would never have won a beauty contest, but when he told us something, we listened. And what was Walter? He was old.
There is a trend in this country to dismiss the older folks. Our culture has raised looking young almost to a level of deification. However, those of us who are middle aged and older have to also point the finger at ourselves.
Singers, actors, and others in the spotlight reach the zenith of their popularity when they are young. It is us who make this so. If you need proof, just look at Burt Reynolds, Robert Redford, and Candice Bergen. Thirty years ago, they were some of the highest-paid actors. Today, they’re almost a memory.
I’ve had the opportunity more than once to sit down and talk with some volunteers with whom I work who are now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. Many of them were once high-level corporate executives.
During our conversations, they’ve talked about how much they enjoy retirement and volunteering. But, they have also discussed some of their accomplishments. When I watch the news and hear about some of the foolish corporate decisions made by younger executives, I have to wonder if a couple of phone calls to one of these older folks might have helped.
There’s a place in society for everyone. Youth offers stamina. Age offers wisdom. If each group reached out to the other, both would greatly benefit.
But, we have to force ourselves to focus less on looks and more on what’s inside.
And not get your feelings hurt if your former classmate mistakes you for a teacher.
©2017 John Moore
John’s new book Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now is available on Amazon.