What Does It Mean To Be How Old?

Young children are very definite about age. Once they know how to tell you they will often say proudly, “I’m four and a half,” or “I’m almost eleven.” They are eager to be as old as they can for however old they are. As we age we tend not to think in terms of fractions of years, and as we get older still we may even begin to fudge about the accumulation. One reason for this might be our expectations of what it is to be how old.

At an open mic I attended recently a man recited a humorous poem about turning sixty. It got me to thinking about age, and how at different times in my life I have had such different opinions about it. How old I am seems to have an influence on what I think about the number of years a person has lived. Then I recalled a conversation I had with a friend when we were both in our late twenties and had to laugh.

“I hope I look as good as she does when I’m that old,” I said. The person in question was in her very early fifties and at that time in my life she seemed to me to be positively ancient. My friend laughed and said, “You may feel differently one day.” Of course she was correct. I didn’t think much about age at the time except that to me anyone over forty must be getting on in years.

Time went by and the years I was accumulating took on more significance. I also discovered the various prejudices associated with any particular age. When I was in my fifties I thought people in their seventies or eighties were well–old. Now the more years I add on the more find myself revising my opinion of how old is old. It seems to me that judgments concerning one’s years are definitely a relative proposition.

When I was a seventeen year old high school graduate going off to college I thought and felt myself to be “all grown up.” When I married and had two children before I was twenty I felt very mature indeed. Today the idea of my eighteen year old granddaughter getting married and having children seems positively laughable. Yet no one at that time no one thought too much about it. Recently I was watching a movie made in the thirties; a white haired, obviously elderly woman with a cane proudly proclaimed herself in a shaky voice to be, “Eighty three years old.” Today eighty anything often looks nothing like that.

The world has greatly changed in this respect. People live far longer and in much better health than they did eighty years ago. When my grandmother died at what seemed the ripe old age of eighty that seemed quite appropriate. Now I have a friend older than she was and she seems far younger. When people ask me how old I am, I tell them I am ageless. I no longer have expectations concerning age. They interfere both with my own and with others’ observations about me. How old is old? I have no idea.


Mama and her birthday cake