I asked Google to define “crone”. The top definition is “an old woman who is thin and ugly”. But there is another. “A woman who is venerated for experience, judgement and wisdom”. In other words, an “elder”, one in whom the word “senior” means one who is appreciated for their life experience, not dismissed as “senile.”
So I imagine how I look to others. I was sitting on the library floor, listening to a young man play jazz piano and another young man sing along. Two small children were climbing precariously on an armchair beside me, stealing the show. What, I wondered, would be the reaction if they toppled over onto me, a not unlikely scenario until their father decided to add his stabilizing weight to the chair. Another time, waiting for the laughing, oblivious young persons approaching me on the sidewalk to ease over slightly so that I did not have to step into a snowbank, or onto ice to avoid them. Does grey hair and a lined face make one invisible?
I remembered the time I was buying something in an electronics store and I mentioned something, I forget what, and the young sales clerk asked me how I had found out about it. When I said I had looked it up online he praised me, “Good for you!” and told me about his mother who was taking classes in using the computer. It was only later that I realized he had been thinking of me as some decaying relic from a distant past who could not really understand technology. He didn’t mean it unkindly. It was just the way he saw me. How could he know that I had spent the better part of two decades using a computer to help other people find information?
Inside, we “crones” and “elders” are the same people we have always been. The sixty year old contains the thirty year old, or the three year old, and will one day grow to contain a ninety year old, eventually returning to whatever version of infinity brackets birth and death.
I remember reaching a milestone birthday and mentioning my age to someone I’d known well over the years. She said, sounding disappointed and dare I say, accusatory, “But I thought you were my age!”–ten years younger. After that, I felt a shift in the relationship, as if I was suddenly invisible because in her view, I’d been occupying the same circle of friends on false pretences. It didn’t help that this happened in a place where one would not expect that kind of labelling to exist! I like the way you summed up your reflection. My dad used to get frustrated with the physical limitations of Parkinson’s disease, and remark on how he always felt young on the inside, even though he looked old in the eyes of the young. I imagine that we’re like Russian nesting dolls, the outer self containing all the other ones representing earlier stages of our lives. We are the same person we’ve always been, but with the experience, judgement and wisdom that can only come through a long lifetime of navigating our individual worlds.