Every so often, I have a flash of insight about my own internalized ageism. When it happens, I am both disappointed and pleased.
To set the stage: I am driving to a doctor’s appointment at a major downtown medical center. (In case you’re wondering what the appointment is for, be patient—that just might be a topic for a future blog.)
I’ve not been to this doctor before. I am rushing not to be late and am just a tad anxious about finding the correct office. Valet or self-park? A crowded parking garage, and now waiting for a terribly slow driver to back out of a parking space. (And no, the slow driver is NOT an older person!)
Following my scribbled notes, I eventually arrive at the correct office and receive terrific care. I retrace my steps to the parking garage, walk to the level where I parked, but my car is not where I’d left it. I quickly recognize that I’m not on the correct parking level, and I can picture clearly what that level looks like.
Not certain of the best route to my car, I walk up the ramp hesitatingly, about five or six steps, just to get my bearings and rethink the correct location. I smile to myself as I confidently turn and walk slowly to retrieve my vehicle. That’s when I notice her.
A woman, standing in the middle of the pedestrian walkway on the parking garage ramp, watching me. I think to myself, “What’s wrong with her, she might get run over.” Then she approaches and asks if I need any help.
What? Me? Need help? I smile and say no, and then say a curt thank you. That’s when I start seething inside. I am NOT the disoriented old guy who needs some pity help! How (bleep) condescending of her.
I judge her ageism—that she assumes because of my appearance that I probably need some help. I am personally offended. Bruised ego. A bit outraged.
That’s when I catch myself with just a flicker of humility. Perhaps she just thinks I might need help, no matter what my age, and inquired. What’s so wrong with that?
And besides, so what if I’d been a bit disoriented?! My being ashamed of being disoriented is internalized ageism. So what if I have a skin-flap under my chin. So what if I’m slower in line. So what if I’m old.
That’s when I am both disappointed and pleased. Disappointed in myself that I have once again reacted out of the deep habit of old is bad, young is good. And pleased with myself that I have caught it and caught it so quickly this time.
Marc Blesoff was a criminal defense attorney for 35 years, then he began facilitating Conscious Aging workshops, which has helped him melt the armor he’d built up as a defense lawyer. He’s a founding member of Courageus (formerly A Tribe Called Aging), a group of activists and thinkers trying to re-frame our culture’s outlook, policies and fears about aging and dying. Currently, he is the chairperson of the Oak Park, IL Aging-In-Place Commission.