A recent birthday prompted a conversation about age. A friend is in total denial about aging, “No” she says, “you’re not old!” As though that were a terrible thing. Being, I would say, on the cusp of old age (but vigorous, not frail) I feel that there is some merit in having lived so long and I no longer want to deny the fact. The problem is partly one of semantics. Nowadays we would not say that a thirty-five year old is middle aged, although in fact they are. Yet there is a big difference between the youth of one who is in their mid-thirties, and one who is, say, nineteen or twenty. Just as the word “tween” has come to describe that awkward period where a child is not yet a youth, but certainly not like a seven or eight year old child, we need words to describe the time between young adult and middle age, and the time between middle age and old age.
As a child I remember observing the older people in my community. I was very aware of the two kinds of elders who lived amongst us. There were the vigorous ones, with strong voices, who fully participated in life. Then there were the frail ones. I understood that when a vigorous elder moved into the frail category, they would soon die. This was in the mid twentieth century when the frail did not survive as long as perhaps they do today. One day a man or woman was hale, the next their voices began to quaver and their bodies seemed to shrink, and a few weeks or months later they were gone.