"Old people shouldn't eat health foods. They need all the preservatives they can get."
Some things are impossible to define. Take "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," for example. No standard there. Or how about colors? Did you ever try to match a white shirt with white pants; ditto for black or blue? There must be 40 shades of each. I have one outfit I simply call, "paint chart." My shoes, top, pants, and jacket differ wildly, though all four claim to be navy blue.
Now that my personal odometer has rolled over another year, I'm wondering about another definition: Does anyone know at what age you become a senior citizen and, presumably, cross the threshold into old age?
The marketplace doesn't know. Though I was neither retired nor old by my definition, I (or my enrollment fee) was enthusiastically welcomed by AARP when I reached 50. At the same time I didn't qualify for "senior menu" prices at a local restaurant because I wasn't 55, and I had to be 60 before qualifying for the senior discount at Kroger. Even then, when my decrepit self tried to buy discount theater tickets I was told I had to be 65.
Alas, when I consult my modern (young) edition of the American Heritage Dictionary, the half-page listing for "old" -- see, they don't even know -- begins with: "Having lived or existed a long time," or "far advanced in years" (groan).
Rodale's Synonym Finder wasn't much better. First paragraph entries, "elderly, aged, antiquated, timeworn, and decrepit," did little for my rapidly aging spirits. But reading optimistically on, I found a few synonyms for my "condition" I could live with: "Of great age, long-established, time-honored, and pristine." How nice. Still, I thought I might have better success with the word "senior."
Once again, you scour the paragraphs and take your pick from among, "older, firstborn," or -- drum roll, please -- "superior, preeminent, or supreme." Then came the clincher, an actual entry for senior citizen: "A person of relatively advanced age, especially over the age of retirement."
Aha, I console myself. Since the word "relatively" is as imprecise as I want it to be, and my workload remains so heavy I'll never retire, I'll never be old, either. Right?
Well, maybe not. But, as my grammatically challenged friend would say, "Whom cares?" I now qualify for all the above discounts plus my bona fide senior status at "The Family Y" where I swim several times a week, and my monthly, pre-baby boomer Social Security check that's supposed to last as long as I do. Of course, when I told a child in my children's choir I had gone swimming that morning, she gasped, "I didn't know old people could swim!"
However, as the sages and I agree, age has its own theory of relativity and, like beauty, is also in the eye of the beholder:
I'm grown peaceful as old age tonight. (Robert Browning, famed poet who invited his beloved Elizabeth to "grow old along with me.")
Old age is the crown of life, our play's last act. (Cicero, 1st century, BC)
No man loves life like him that's growing old. (Sophocles, 442 BC)
Let me grow lovely, growing old -- so many fine things do: laces, ivory, silks, and gold.... Why may not I, as well as these, grow lovely growing old? (Karle Wilson Baker)
And from the pen of William Wordsworth, the benediction for today:
"My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began; so is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old...."
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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