Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Jane sent me a story by email
Though it was new to me, I had a hunch that this one had probably already found fertile growing space on the internet. Something about the hopeful tone of the story tipped me off. It was a safe hunch. I was right, and, try as I might—I spent more than two full minutes reading almost identical versions of the same story--I didn’t find the name of its original author. What I think I can say for sure is that whoever wrote it hoped to inspire. If repetition is any indicator—and it probably is, given the contagious nature of such things--that hope appears to have been achieved.
Jane and I have been talking lately about old people. It all started at lunch, when we discovered that all six of us assembled around the table were eligible to order off the seniors’ menu.
“”Seniors Grilled Cheese with a fruit cup,”” said one, when the waitress came by to take the order.
“”Seniors Chicken,”” said another.
“”Seniors omelet,”” said the next one.
When my turn came I also ordered the grilled cheese. “”Seniors Grilled Cheese,”” I said loudly. I ordered it slowly to give the waitress time to focus, trying desperately to project a sneaky look, a broad hint that I might have something to hide. In reality I had nothing to hide, except that deep inside me burned a faint but persistent hope that the waitress, upon hearing my order, would ask for government ID to prove my age. Instead, she asked if I wanted the grilled cheese on white, brown or sourdough.
Struggling with the fact that my order would go unchallenged, I focused on the task of contenting myself with the thrill of the discount, and that warm feeling of being in the company of good people. Jane and I were, to my mind, in a mixed group. Some of us are retired, some of us are not. Some of us are grandparents. Some of us are not. Some of us live in seniors’ accommodation, while others moved to a large two-story house not so long ago. The age span in the group, from oldest to youngest, is 37 years—one generation in our family, two generations in some others. That covers a lot of territory on the demographic map, and here we were, a one-category group in solidarity, ordering from the seniors’ menu.
The way I see it, the whole process of aging is a hotbed of uncertainty. We might be carefree, or encumbered with pain. We might be respected, yet can also expect—when we least expect it—to be disregarded. We might bask in a life of plenty or—possibly given economic unpredictability—find ourselves living on a tight budget. So I ask you, is it any wonder, then, that a story about the beauty and regenerative value of old barns and old people should have made it to the big time, snatched up and spread in epidemic proportion by millions who hope to be of value for a long, long time, and—in anticipation of a lengthy journey—fortify themselves with a seniors’ discount?

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