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Living Longer: The Untapped Skills Of Senior Citizens

Barbara Mende: "Remember -- we were people before we were seniors. And we still are." Pictured: Marnie Evans gets ready to toss the javelin during the National Senior Games in Louisville, Ky., Friday, June 29, 2007. (Ed Reinke/AP)closemore
Barbara Mende: "Remember -- we were people before we were seniors. And we still are." Pictured: Marnie Evans gets ready to toss the javelin during the National Senior Games in Louisville, Ky., Friday, June 29, 2007. (Ed Reinke/AP)

Before I was a senior, and even before I was an adult, I was a Girl Scout. We had to do a good deed daily and report our accomplishments at weekly meetings. The most popular good deed was “I gave an old lady a seat on a bus.”

I may be drummed out of the AARP for saying this, but those days should be over. I don’t want someone to give me a seat. I don’t want to go ahead of anyone in supermarket lines. Being allowed to leave my shoes on at airport security is nice, but it reminds me that I’m too old even to be a terrorist. I don’t want to be patronized. Sure, give old people — or young people — a seat if they appear infirm or in distress. But they’ll let you know.

Being allowed to leave my shoes on at airport security is nice, but it reminds me that I’m too old even to be a terrorist.

I want to be treated like an ordinary adult. Hey, we seniors have enough troubles. Many of us live on fixed incomes, which is why I’m not complaining about senior movie and museum discounts, although my pride is hurt when cashiers hand me discount tickets without my asking for them. Many of us do have physical disabilities, which is why we may have given up skiing or tennis or even recreational walking. That’s enough to bear without being reminded by some overgrown Girl Scout that we look too frail to stand on a bus.

Seniors are regarded as a problem. We hear “People are living longer, so we need more long-term care. ” Or “People are living longer, so families are squeezed between their children’s needs and their parents’ needs.” Or the giant lie, “Seniors don’t understand modern technology so we have to keep things simple.” This translates into explaining things to seniors in little words.

What about “People are living longer, so let’s use them!” We’re full of skills and insights, but no one will give us jobs. Many of us have more technical expertise than millennials because we learned to use computers when computers were hard to use. Still, while libraries offer us classes on using Word and Facebook, they don’t consider us as teachers. And not a week passes without someone looking at my iPhone and saying, presumably as a compliment, “Well, aren’t you techy!”

We know more about financial markets than most people who aren’t working in them, because we learned to analyze our retirement investments before all we had to do was download charts from Yahoo. Yet we’re barraged with ads and robocalls about seminars on financial planning for the golden years — delivered in little words.

Well-meaning relatives invite us to old G-rated movies because we wouldn’t understand anything risqué. All we want is to be included. Just invite us to what you’re going to anyway, OK? Let us decide whether to accept.

All we want is to be included. Just invite us to what you’re going to anyway, OK? Let us decide whether to accept.

Some state courts excuse people of a certain age from juries — although they may have more spare time to invest than other people, appreciate the token fees more, have a lot of experience to share and want to be useful. Do the courts think they’re doing us a favor?

And the people who offer us seats on buses talk to us in those same little words. How do these people think English professors and playwrights and neurosurgeons and rocket scientists get around when they retire? They ride buses.

Remember — we were people before we were seniors. And we still are.


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Barbara Mende Cognoscenti contributor
Barbara Mende lives in Cambridge. She fends off retirement by freelancing as a bookkeeper, database manager, editor, webmaster and writer.

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