I will never forget the first time someone called me old. I had pulled into the parking lot of my church one cold winter morning, only to discover that although the streets were in good shape, the church’s parking lot was still very icy. This was a problem because I was wearing heels and I had my two pre-school age kids in the car, so I wasn’t at all sure I could get the three of us in the building safely. As I sat there, debating whether to try to go inside or simply turn around and drive back home, I heard a tap on my car window. It was a middle-schooler I knew, offering to help me and my children get inside, and I gratefully accepted. He was big for his age and wearing snow boots with a good tread, so I let him hold my son’s hand, while I clutched his other arm and held my daughter’s hand. As we made our way slowly and carefully toward the building, I thanked him for coming outside and helping me. And that’s when he blew it by answering, “No problem. My grandpa told me the parking lot was slippery, so I should go outside and help the old people come in.” If I’d had a free hand, I’m pretty sure I would have smacked him. I was all of 34 at the time.
I think that’s when I first realized that age is relative. I may have only been in my mid thirties, but my young friend saw me as “old.” And now that I am in my mid fifties, I’ve realized that the number of people who think I’m old has grown much larger. They’re not just middle-schoolers anymore, they’re also teenagers and often adults in their twenties and early thirties. Honestly, sometimes it can be a little hard on the ego.
Yet I’ve learned there can be an upside in dealing with people who insist on believing that I am well into my geezer years. When I buy a new cell phone, the young adult who waits on me is usually quite willing to completely program it for me, going on the assumption that I have no idea how to do it myself (which would be correct.) Baggers at the grocery store routinely ask if I would like help carrying my groceries to the car. Actually, I’ve gotten quite bold about asking people younger than me to get the tight cap off my bottle of Diet Coke, read fine print for me, or do whatever else I’m finding it difficult to do. Requests that would have gotten me a strange look when I was in my twenties or thirties are now usually just met with a willingness to help.
I may not be old yet, but if others see me that way and think I need some extra assistance, I’m not going to let it upset me anymore, and I’m sure not going to turn it down. After all, if my young church friend didn’t think I was old all those years ago, I would have had to make my way across that icy parking lot all by myself, with two young kids in tow. Sometimes it’s best to just go with the flow.