I have a friend who is officially a “special person.” It is actually printed across the top of her I.D. “I think it’s cool to have it there when you have to show people your license,” says Lyndy Thatcher who is the youngest “special person” you’ll ever meet. The SP moniker is the legal designation for a person living in Bermuda who is over 65 years of age.
Among other things, SP’s are entitled to ride the town buses and ferries for free. But it means much more than that.
Who wants to be called an “old age pensioner”, which is how the English define their more mature population, when you are still productive and curious and interesting?
“Seniors” or “Elderly” are the common terms in the U.S. A bit better, but not by much. “That’s what you call your grandmother,” says Thatcher. Out of friendship and good sense I refrain from reminding her that she has just become a grandmother herself, albeit a very hip one, but a grand mama nonetheless.
Our world is ever changing and attitudinal adjustments must catch up with reality, beginning with language improvements. No one calls a person suffering from epilepsy an “epileptic ” any more… do they? It would be inaccurate and unfair to define someone solely by their disease. The same is true for the aging.
But a fair number of folks would feel diminished with the moniker “pensioner.” The term carries with it an end of the road connotation when really there is still so much left to achieve. It is hard to be dismissive of people like Peter Mark Roget who didn’t publish Roget’s Thesaurus until he was 73 or U.S. swimmer Diana Nyad who at 64 and without a shark cage became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida. The “special person” category certainly applies to them and is not only more kind than other descriptions, but it is actually more honestly descriptive. There is a wealth of history and experience and wisdom an older individual carries with them. I look at “mature” people as a time capsule of sorts and they can be a lot of more interesting to talk to than someone whose experience is limited, primarily by their young age.
There’s lots of evidence to convince us of the benefits of revering this group. When I see “seniors” working in a grocery store, for instance, I am confident that should the computer break down, they will still be able to do simple math in their heads and tell me what I owe them.
A New York Times article recently addressed changing lifestyle trends for our mature population which is positively exhilarating. It looked at a growing number of Americans who may have retired from the office, but not from an interesting life. Really,”it ain’t over til it’s over” said legendary Yankee Yogi Berra. Calling them, “senior gypsies,” “international nomads,” and “American Bedouins” reporter David Wallis writes about “American retirees who have downsized to the extreme, choosing a life of travel over a life of tending to possessions. Between 1993 and 2012, the percentage of all retirees traveling abroad rose to 13 percent from 9.7 percent, according to the Commerce Department.” What’s more, says Wallis, “About 360,000 Americans received Social Security benefits at foreign addresses in 2013, about 48 percent more than 10 years earlier.”
My friend, the eternal teenager, Mrs Thatcher, has traveled to dozens of countries herself, recently took up the ukelele, paddle boards, and wears designer high heels that would make any woman decades her junior green with envy. That is the face of folks over 50 and beyond.
Look at the model Elle Macpherson. She is proof that 50 is the new 40. Middle age never looked so good. The actress and singer Cher is a knockout at 68. The best philosophy about getting older is to keep on living interestingly until you can’t anymore. When I look at all these “special persons” these days, I am reminded of the American actor John Barrymore who had it right when he said, “A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.”
It is incumbent upon any group that is being maligned to stand up for itself. Refuse to be called an “old age pensioner” anymore. And then make sure you never act like one!