Every so often I have a flash of insight about my own internalized ageism. When it happens, I am both disappointed and pleased.
To set the stage, I am driving to a doctor’s appointment at a major downtown medical center. (In case you’re wondering what the appointment is for, be patient, that might be the topic for a future column.)
I’ve not been to this doctor before. I am rushing not to be late, and just a tad anxious about finding the correct office. Valet or self-park? A crowded parking garage, and now waiting for a god-awful-slow driver to back out of a parking space. (And no, the god-awful-slow driver is not an older person!)
Following my hand-scribbled notes, I eventually arrive at the correct office and receive terrific care. I re-trace my steps back to the parking garage, walk to the level where I parked, but my car is not where I’d left it. I quickly recognize that I’m not on the correct parking level, and I can picture clearly what that level looks like.
Not certain of the best route to my car, I walk up the ramp hesitatingly, about 5 or 6 steps, just to get my bearings and re-think the correct location. I smile to myself as I confidently turn and walk slowly to retrieve my vehicle. That’s when I notice her.
A woman, standing in the middle of the pedestrian walkway on the parking garage ramp, watching me. I think to myself, “What’s wrong with her? She might get run over.” Then she approaches and asks if I need any help.
What? Me? Need help? I smile and say “no” and “thank you.” That’s when I start seething inside. I am not the disoriented old guy who needs some pity help! How (bleep) condescending of her!
I judge her ageism — that she assumes because of my appearance that I probably need some help. I am personally offended. Bruised ego. A bit outraged.
And that’s when I catch myself with just a flicker of humility. Perhaps she just thinks I might need help, no matter what my age, and inquired. What’s so wrong with that?
And besides, so what if I’d been a bit disoriented?! That’s my own internalized ageism. So what if I have a skin-flap under my chin? So what if I’m slower in line? So what if I’m old?
And that’s when I am both disappointed and pleased. Disappointed in myself that I have once again reacted out of the deep habit of old is bad, young is good. And pleased with myself not just that I realize it, but also that I realized it so quickly this time.