[Although I’ve begun to think of people in their 60’s as “still young,” I realize that’s just a matter of perspective.  There was a time when I thought 50 was “old.”   Here’s a piece by Martha Mendelsohn, a New York-based writer colleague of mine who’s at least twelve years younger than I am. It first appeared in the Winter 2011-2012 issue of Persimmontree, an online magazine of the arts by women over sixty, as a response to a request for short pieces about “The Next Step.”  I enjoyed reading it when it was published there, and felt it certainly also deserved a place in a blog about getting old in a world where most other people, who appear to be getting younger every year, have begun to treat you as if you’re somewhat older than you still feel.  I should add that Martha has curly streaky-blonde hair, probably wears a size 2 or 4 and looks damn good — not just “for her age” but for any age.]



by Martha Mendelsohn

The members of my book group were downing the dregs of the Manchego and wine when L. cleared her throat: “This may sound like a weird question—but do I look okay?”

Surely that was a rhetorical question. “You look more than okay,” we hastened to reassure her. With her twinkling blue eyes and deep dimples, L., at 68, was still an undeniably attractive woman. “Because as soon as I got on the subway,” L. continued, “a man, who couldn’t have been under 50, offered me his seat.”

A groan of recognition arose. It seemed that all of us recent Medicare recipients had been subjected to this particular brand of public transportation gallantry, and none of us appreciated it. Maybe we could no longer take the subway steps three at a time, but we went to the gym, chased after grandkids, and still worked. We were not about to throw ourselves under the train tracks for these unwanted acts of kindness, but we deemed them offensive.

J. was the most outraged. She had spent much time and money having the quotation mark between her eyebrows and other signs of age erased, but that didn’t stop a passenger from insisting she take her seat on the crosstown bus. Someone suggested: “Next time, just say, ‘Thanks, but I’m not pregnant.’”

I find myself thinking that the only time anyone should cede a seat is for a pregnant woman or any passenger, whether 19 or 90, with an obvious infirmity. Why shouldn’t an obviously still-mobile person of a certain age be allowed to remain standing? I was on the bus with my husband when a not-so-young woman bolted up, begging him to take her seat. (He acquiesced reluctantly.) “This man plays eight hours of tennis a week,” I informed her, even though in truth it annoyed me how much time he spent on the courts.

For now, hoping to head off seat offers, I hide my under-eye pouches behind sunglasses. But I encounter other affronts: At doctors’ offices, I routinely am called “hon,” “sweetie,” and “dear.” Will the time come when I feel grateful for such endearments and those thoughtful riders willing to yield their seats? Will I ever reach the point where “pushing 70” doesn’t sound like it refers to my mother?

The next step is to accept my age. To accept the seat.


[Martha has also written a page-turner of a YA novel which is scheduled for publication in April 2015 and may be pre-ordered at Amazon.  It’s called The Bromley Girls and is about a Jewish girl’s experience with latent anti-semitism as a sophomore at an exclusive and expensive girls’ private school in Manhattan in the 1950’s. If there are young readers in your extended family and circle of friends, you may want to check it out.]

9 thoughts on “WHEN DOES “OLD” BEGIN? — A GUEST POST

  1. isabelle

    I’ve been struggling with this “acceptance” issue since my mid 60’s. My conclusion is that it’s not necessarily a bad thing to refuse to think of oneself as old as long as it motivates us to continue to be active intellectually and physically (as much as possible). In fact, this refusal to “accept” my chronological aging has led me to try some new experiences and continue to explore options that I would have discarded as “not worth my time” when I was younger.
    I must admit, however, that I do still avoid being with groups of “old” people doing “old person” activities like group outings. But I would have been very happy yesterday if one of those 20 something’s on the PATH had offered me a seat. I guess we can’t have it all, ever.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No, we can’t have it all, ever. I don’t think Martha’s piece, though, was so much about thinking of herself as old as about accepting that we are beginning to look “old” to other people, however good WE think we look, and look to our contemporaries. That said, of course we should live our lives to the fullest as long as we can, irrespective of the calendar.


  2. Sometimes a seat is just a seat. There are times when I would be delighted to have someone give me a seat no matter what age I am. I don’t attach it to being old but to kindness and helping someone who seems tired or with a lot of packages. I enjoyed the article. I don’t know if I really accept aging or try to ignore it. I like to play the age card when I don’t want to do something but will do anything I really want to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I too take all seats offered. (Usually offered by thoughtful young women.) I used to demur, “Do I look that infirm?” and wait to be assured I didn’t before agreeing to accept the seat. But I don’t do that anymore. I will also intentionally position myself in front of some seated youth attached to his earbuds and staring mindlessly into space even when I lurch back and forth as I cling to my pole. But that never does any good. Usually some other person notices the rude youth and rises to his or her feet for my benefit instead. As for doing anything we really want to do, yes of course! That’s what life is for!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A human life last about 70 or 80 years on the average. Some die younger. Those who live a little longer, naturally feel grateful for their enjoyment of life for that extra time. 20 year old people, or those younger, often see 40 year olds as older folks. That’s perspective. I don’t think we should resent that. I don’t believe we should judge ourselves by the perspective of those much younger than we are. It is nice to continue to relate to the society at large, and to be part of it, even in old age. But it is a waste of time, in my opinion, to work hard, to undergo medical operations and the like, for the sake of appearances. This is fostering an illusion that doesn’t really enrich our lives. When someone stands up to give me a seat in a train or a bus, I am happy both for myself, and for the society I live in. With all due respect, to the fantasies of others…


    • Ah, Shimon! Judgmental to the end! I don’t believe anyone reading this blog is undergoing “medical operations and the like,” but you must allow us our small vanities. In some ways, aging may be less stressful for men; they have wives, girlfriends, daughters, nieces and nice ladies on the bus to cater to them, irrespective of their appearance. Whereas we “older” women can’t but notice that men are usually more attentive to the young….. 🙂


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