In teaching The Scarlet Letter to my 11th-graders, I am always pleasantly surprised by how quickly they respond to the plight of the heroine, poor Hester Prynne, forced to wear the infamous "A" upon her bosom for all time due to her indiscreet dalliance with the pasta.
Most students are full of righteous indignation that one person's sins should be so publicly displayed while others', perhaps much more heinous, should go undetected and unpunished.
Alas, a little biscuit in the oven does tend to give away one's secret, especially as it dramatically rises to the occasion.
But as the years pass, for me, and my family and friends, I'm discovering there are other "A's" hung like albatrosses around our necks, one in particular that insidiously infiltrates everyone's life eventually - ageism.
Oh, I know no one in "human resources" ever admits to the prejudice; that would be illegal. No doctor ever outright says "you're old - go die," but some attitudes leave little room for doubt as to their meaning.
Supposedly, we revere and admire our elders, but then why are so many senior citizens discarded and forgotten, seen as a burden rather than a blessing?
If you happen to be in the 50-plus range, you know what I'm talking about.
If you haven't made it that far yet, just wait. Your time is coming.
Suddenly, you're last week's news. Your opinions aren't "cutting edge," and your expertise is cause for so many rolling eyes you might think you've ended up in a marble factory. Now you've got adorable 20-somethings supervising you who couldn't find their way out of a paper bag with a flashlight and Lewis and Clark, but you're expected to play nice and watch them make a muddled mess of things, which you'll probably have to straighten out later.
OK, OK - I know I'm not cute any more. Actually, I never really was, but that's another issue. All I'm trying to say is that sooner than we expect it, we all have to face the inevitable ravages of gravity and time.
How else could one explain the hump on my back, sporadic beard, and noticeable limp?
But the bias against age didn't just begin with my generation. I can remember my mother being told by a state employment counselor that at 36 she was probably over the hill for an executive secretarial position. Thank goodness her boss-to-be at Continental Can saw her worth.
In addition, quite a while back, a very close friend of mine, fed up with Charles Larke and his demolition of the Richmond County school system, tried to come on board in Columbia County. Twenty-five years experience and a masters degree apparently didn't impress the bigwigs, since she was told on more than one interview, "Why should we hire you when we can get two young teachers for what you'd cost us?" Duh. Experience? Ability? Loyalty? No maternity leave?
We're told to "check with our doctors" over and over whenever we cough up a hairball or find something fishy on an appendage, but as soon as they discover our birth year, some physicians snurl up as if we've truly passed our expiration date. I remember one neurologist who scathingly informed my mother that she was old and sick, so what did she want him to do? I had a suggestion, but Mama wouldn't let me tell him.
But the fact remains that God must have His reasons for keeping us around past mid-life. He and Mr. Rogers think we're fine just the way we are.
What was all this striving, this enduring about, if not for the celebration of the rich fabric we've woven? I would give almost anything on this earth to sit at my mother's or grandmothers' knees again to ask their sage advice.
Fortunately, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. There still are people of vision who see beyond surface characteristics, who realize what someone may lack in agility, speed, and looks is more than offset by wisdom, tenacity, and a good plastic surgeon.
I personally appreciate the foresight and forbearance of those who hired me, despite my impending need for Geritol and a Hover-Round.
The media also seems to be catching on slowly but surely. Dove proudly promotes older women in its ads, and every once in a while we see a geriatric gal or guy in a great film that doesn't involve cocoons or ventilators.
And as I recall, once Hester confessed and repented of her sins, the townsfolk began to think her "A" stood for "Able." May all people someday recognize such an adjective can fit at any age.
(Mindy Jeffers is a Martinez resident.)
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