Mind Matters

by Rev. Robert H. Tucker

Number 249
June 9, 1997

"Oh, To Be Seventy Again!"


A well-known feminist leader was being interviewed on the occasion of her fiftieth birthday. The TV interviewer said, "You look very, very good for being fifty," and she responded, "This is how a fifty-year old looks today."

Aging has greatly changed in the last couple of decades. Not only are more people living longer, but they are living 'younger.' That is, people at sixty generally look and feel and behave no older than their parents did at fifty. Just as children today mature earlier, so our oldsters age later, physically and socially.

It was Bernard Baruch at eighty who said, "Old age is always fifteen years older than you are." This was verified in a study which found people uniformly saying, "Well, I may be forty, but I still feel myself to be twenty-five," and "Well, I may be seventy-five, but I only feel sixty." Nearly everyone finds it hard to believe he or she has reached a certain milestone in life, be it forty, sixty or eighty, and it is the rare person who internally feels that old. Perhaps people always felt much younger "inside" than the chronological reality; nowadays, outer appearance conforms more nearly to the inner view.

One of the last places for the grandparent image to change was on television. The stereotypical bespectacled, gray-haired, physically unsteady, and a bit bewildered elderly person has given way to the figure swooping around water-skiing or drifting down in a parachute. Older people used to ask for respect; now they demand to be judged by their vigor. A new conceptualization of what Shakespeare depicted as "the ages of man" is needed.

Justice of the Supreme Court Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., at the age of ninety, is supposed to have said, on seeing a beautiful young woman, "Oh, to be seventy again!" The year was 1931. Almost seventy years ago.

Ah, well, perhaps it is we who are a bit myopic.


--Robert H. Tucker
9 June 1997


© Robert H. Tucker, 1997.
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