By which I don’t mean “you’re as young as you feel” but rather how one perceives the ages of other people.
When I was somewhere around ten or eleven, I attended some sort of social gathering with people of all ages – most likely some Jewish community event. There was a group of young people there, all in their early twenties, gathered in a group and speaking in their secret generational language and flirting with each other.
I watched them in awe. They were so smooth, so sophisticated, so glamorous, so self-possessed, so in control of themselves and the world. I couldn’t wait to be in my early twenties so that I could be as smooth, etc. as they were!
I’m 67 and I’m still waiting, but never mind that. Now, of course, when I look at young people in their early twenties, I see just barely no longer kids, often trying awkwardly to be smooth, etc. It’s possible that young people in their early twenties now are dramatically different from young people in their early twenties 55+ years ago, but it’s much more likely that the change is in me.
We’ve all experienced this. Throughout most of our lives, “young” is anyone more than a few years, say 5 years, younger than ourselves, and “old” is anyone more than a similar number of years older than ourselves. Look at the photos in your high-school yearbook (You kids today do still have those, don’t you? Why, when I was a lad … ) and you’re astonished at how young and immature those kids look. You don’t remember them that way at all!
Nothing new there. But here’s the thing that’s changed for me. I don’t know when this happened, fairly recently I think, but lately that relative perception of age has given way to a more absolute one. The young aren’t getting younger as I grow older. They’re staying about the same. And “old” doesn’t mean X years older than me. “Old” is a category I’ve moved into myself. Or, on my more denial-of-reality days, am just about to start moving into myself.
I used to be aware of old people referring to themselves and their peers as old people, but that never struck me as odd because to me they were all old people. Now that I’m one myself, officially a senior citizen (What a silly phrase! What if I’d never become naturalized? Would I be a senior resident alien?), I’m speaking the same way.
It seems natural. Although when I think about it, it also seems strange, a bit unsettling.
Rather suddenly, people no longer occupy various positions along a spectrum from very young to very old, with “normal” referring to a narrow band of about 10 years width in the middle of which is yours truly. Now the world is divided into the young and the old, and I know quite well which of those two I’m in.