I’M AN OLD MAN.
That might not seem like much of an accomplishment to you, but there’ve been times when I thought I might not make it this far.
A man who looked about my age approached me in the super market the other day. He said, “You’re the Armchair Mayor. I agree with you 99.9 per cent of the time.”
People like to tell me how much they agree or disagree with me in percentage terms. Some say 80 per cent, some say “half the time,” and so on. It would be interesting to compare the percentages with the ages of those who are calculating them.
My favorite meme, often posted on social media in response to my columns and editorials, is a newspaper clipping that shows a photo of Abe Simpson under a headline that says, “Old man yells at cloud.” I like yelling at clouds. Always have.
Let’s be clear — I wasn’t any smarter when I was younger.
When I was a quarter of a century on this earth, I thought I knew quite a bit. At three quarters of a century, I’ve figured out I don’t know much.
Despite this, my views on the world have remained pretty constant over the years. When I was 16, for example, I believed 16-year-olds should get the vote. I still do.
I’m still what I’d call a practical environmentalist, and I remain convinced that growth is over-rated.
I call that consistency. Others might call it failing to change with the times. Maybe.
The world itself has changed, of course. When I was a kid, milk came in glass bottles. My toys were made of wood and metal. Plastic changed everything. For most of my life, I accepted plastic as another step in human evolution. Now I know, as many do, that plastic is killing us and we’ve got to find another way.
I’m not saying age doesn’t influence our views on things but it it’s just one factor. Sometimes experience comes in handy.
You might have noticed that Joe Biden announced his bid for the presidency on my birthday. Coincidence? I think not. He’s 76; it’s never too late to start.
I saw a Bill Maher segment last week that struck a chord. He’s the U.S. commentator who mingles opinion, profanity and interviews on his weekly TV show.
One of the raps against Joe Biden is that he’s too old to run for president. Maher pointed out that nobody publicly trashes candidates for being “too gay,” “too black” or “too female” but they think it’s acceptable to put down someone who’s “too old.”
Ageism is the last bastion of the isms, and they’re all equally despicable. It begins with trying to make the opinions of those older than ourselves irrelevant. If we disagree with an old person, we dismiss them because they’re old. We try to make them ashamed that they’ve lasted a lot longer than we have.
We stereotype them. Old people are treated like children, less worthy, less intelligent and less capable than everyone else, a burden. The reason for this, I believe, is fear.
Public shaming and elder abuse aren’t the only components of ageism.
We know all about the Golden Years, when we’re supposed to play golf all day long, enjoying our grandchildren, staying slim and healthy, and taking cruise vacations.
For some, that’s accurate. They have worked hard, made good incomes, invested well and saved. They remain independent as long as their health stands up, and when they can no longer (or no longer want to) maintain a single-family home, they hopefully have the option of a modern, well-run seniors’ apartment complex with good food, lots of activities and companionship, and a nurse on duty.
The reality faced by many old people is very different, of course. They struggle with poverty in their 60s, 70s and 80s, and when their health and — sometimes their mind — fails them they’re stored in barren, crowded warehouses where they sit all day in wheelchairs, in diapers, drooling.
They’re kept out of harm’s way but that’s about the best that can be said.
I’ve seen it written that ageism is a prejudice that targets our future selves. When we discount old people, we subconsciously acknowledge our fear of aging. We marginalize what we inevitably will ourselves become, if we live long enough.
Getting old takes courage. For one thing, no matter how well you look after yourself, age takes its toll. The old bod doesn’t work as well as it used to. You become more prone to disease, often multiple diseases. The years become measured by the number of pills you take every day.
And, always, there’s the growing realization of your own mortality.
I admire old people, of which I’m now one. I’m one of the lucky ones. Born on the cusp of the Baby Boom, I’ve enjoyed all the privileges of my generation. Sometimes I feel sorry for the Millennials and Gen Xers and Gen Zers. They live in a demanding world and they’re struggling.
I’m not wealthy and some would say I’m not especially wise, either. Age is certainly no guarantee of wisdom. But I’m comfortable. I like to think, and to share my opinions. As long as I can do that, and am pain free, I don’t need to travel the world and play tennis at the country club.
I’ll die content in the belief that, by and large, I’ve done some good in this world. If I reach the average life expectancy for Canadian men, I have five years left. Maybe I’ll do better than the average. With my last breath, I hope to be yelling at clouds.
As Abe Simpson would say, “Who’s laughing now?”
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops, former school board chair, former editor of The Kamloops Daily News, and a current director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He was awarded the Jack Webster Foundation’s lifetime achievement award in 2011. His editorials are published Monday through Thursdays, and Saturdays on CFJC Today, CFJC Midday and CFJC Evening News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.