Not long ago, I received an email from a woman in her early 70s who wrote about how salesclerks have started to treat her like she’s a “doddering old fool.”
She said on two occasions as she was checking out, she had coins in her hand and was preparing to count out the exact change when the clerks actually reached into her hand and selected the coins needed, as if she was incapable of doing so herself. She said she wished she had slapped their hands to teach them a lesson but was so dumbfounded she just stood there and allowed it to happen.
That very same day, I was having an email conversation along a similar line with my friend, David Miller, a Dow retiree who now lives in Washington state. Miller was telling me about a revelation he had while he and his wife were playing host to a young couple in their late 20s-early 30s.
They had taken their guests to a wolf sanctuary, various pubs, and on a whale watching tour. Miller said it left him feeling old.
“But more than old, it made me feel marginalized. I realized I’ve become an old person who is regarded as out-of-step and out-of-date. At best, tolerated, but more often, simply ignored and disregarded. The way this happens is subtle but persistent.”
Miller said at the wolf encounter, the guides attended to the younger folks by engaging with them, making eye contact, and responding to their questions with interest and enthusiasm.
“With me — I would get a cordial reply but there was no effort made to engage or converse,” Miller said. “A similar experience was had on the whale watching tour. There were several older couples on the tour, older than us, but it was the middle-aged and younger folks who received the attention. The guide would chat with them and point out features, but when talking with an older customer, the questions were, ‘How are you doing?’ and, ‘Is everything okay?’”
It reminds me a bit of being at an amusement park. Those standing in line are all excited and animated and actively attended by staff, while those exiting the ride have become invisible.
Although I haven’t yet set up my tent in the invisible camp, I have definitely been touring the grounds. I tend to be a quiet person, and when I do speak, my voice is often not heard.
I dodge confrontation, prefer to be in the background, and am uncomfortable when I’m the center of attention. But aside from two conversations on the subject happening the very same day, I’d not given age-related invisibility any thought.
Ours is a youth-fixated culture where people are afraid to age. We spend crazy amounts of money trying to delay or reverse or disguise the aging process. Ideals of beauty are centered around those with young, healthy bodies and unlined faces.
There are enough struggles and indignities that come with getting older without invisibility being added to the list. The idea of feeling dismissed and unseen was new and troubling — until I read on.
“I’m trying to decide if I’m going to let this bother me,” Miller wrote, “or if perhaps I can use my ever-increasing invisibility as an asset. Going unseen has its advantages. This might prove to be something I can find ways to have fun with. Wrinkles might prove to be effective camouflage. Perhaps my long-desired career as a street photographer may come to fruition with being able to see but not be seen.”
When people are asked if they could choose any superpower, invisibility always ranks near the top. But it’s invisibility by choice. Something they can turn on and off at will.
Not being viewed as the human equivalent of the last sip in the cup. The final few chips in the bag.
Upon doing a quick online search using keywords like “invisibility” and “aging,” I was surprised to find hundreds of articles.
“Invisibility is freeing,” wrote one of the commenters. “I get to wear comfortable shoes and elastic-waist pants. I play pranks on the neighbors, and they blame the guy down the street who is always setting off fireworks because they don’t see me. I’m old and invisible. What goes around, comes around. I had my time in the sun. They’ll be where I am soon enough.”