Getting older is like getting fatter. You don’t notice because it happens gradually.
One thing you do notice is suddenly being ignored. You notice because it seems to happen overnight. One day you’re a vital part of society and respected leader in your industry; the next day people merely nod at you with a perfunctory smile as if you were a greeter at Walmart.
This only happens with people who didn’t know you when you were young. Unfortunately, over time that seems to be most people.
Several years ago I mentioned this to my son’s mother-in-law, Gloria, a dear friend who is a bit older and very wise. I told her I was frustrated because my experience and knowledge of my business had always been sought by my colleagues but suddenly nobody seems to have any interest in what I think.
“You’ve reached the age of irrelevance,” she explained matter-of-factly.?
I had to let that sink in for a moment.
The age of irrelevance.
Gloria could see I was stunned. “It happens to all of us,” she said gently. “I used to be the person my managers turned to for ideas. Then one day they weren’t interested in any of my observations or suggestions.”
I didn’t know what to say. It made no sense and yet this is exactly what I was experiencing.
“It’s like when your kids are growing up,” Gloria continued. “They rely on you for everything and then one day they suddenly don’t need you at all. You’re irrelevant.”
Nobody ever warned me this would happen. I don’t like it but I’ve come to accept it philosophically, if not quite emotionally. It still hurts a bit. I feel kind of useless.
It’s been a few years since Gloria explained to me this particularly jarring bump on the road of l ife. I’m getting used to it and so will you.
I just thought someone should give you a heads up.
When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s I never knew anybody who was a homosexual. The word “gay” hadn’t yet been been appropriated from its original definition as a synonym for happy. Back then people who were sexually attracted to members of their own gender weren’t discussed openly among normal, heterosexual people. When it did come up in conversation it was always in the form of a disparaging joke or an embarrassed whisper of disgust. As children, we weren’t allowed to know these people existed.
People like that were “in the closet”, a phrase I first heard in my teens. The closet was where they belonged, we thought. We were happy to keep it that way. We assumed “they” were satisfied with the arrangement, too. It never occurred to us that people who were in love with a person of their own sex might wish they could live a normal life without being ashamed of who they were and who they loved.
In my youth “normal life” was on display nightly on our family TV shows: Leave It To Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best. Families were comprised of a wise father who held a good, steady job and provided guidance and wisdom to his children and his wife. Women worked in the home. They cooked and cleaned and made the family dinner.
These old fashioned stereotypes are laughable now but they really did define us. It was who we were and who we would become as we grew into adulthood ourselves. It was simple, sensible and comforting.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that people got tired of being in the closet and came out to claim their place in society. They were shamed and scorned. We didn’t want to think about their sex lives because sex, even among “normal” people, was dirty and private. Sex in any form might be personally glorious but it was socially icky.
Most of us from that era still believe that the most intimate part of normal loving human relations is nobody’s business but our own and we still don’t want to think about the sexual activities of anybody: our parents, ourselves, our own adult children, and most certainly not people whose private parts couldn’t possibly function the way God intended.
The God problem is still a huge obstacle for many people today. Though I wasn’t raised in church I’ll admit that I still find homosexuality baffling and unnatural, but through the years I’ve decided to accept the fact that other people’s private lives are different from mine and none of my business, just as mine is none of theirs.
Over many years I slowly came around to accept this compromise of my childhood indoctrination with limited understanding. Still, when the gay pride movement became a full fledged political issue my reaction has been the same as many others of my generation running to catch up with cultural and social evolution:
“Fine,” I thought. “Whatever. Just keep it to yourselves!”
I still firmly believe that what happens in the bedroom or who we love is a private affair that shouldn’t be flaunted publicly.
Now, in my sixties, I’ve taken the next step: I know that what I think is of no interest to people who believe strongly otherwise.
And I’ve learned as I age that sometimes I am wrong.
I just watched a TV show on HGTV of all places, in which a realtor finds fabulous homes for people who have recently won the lottery. One of the lottery winners was a gay man, a man of hispanic descent with a male life partner who is black. (This show attacked two social issues for the price of one.) I absolutely fell in love with those guys. Their biracial gay relationship wasn’t even mentioned, it was just there. They bought a home together. Neither of them flaunted anything; they didn’t dress weird or talk with a flamboyant lisp. The only reason I know they’re gay is that they were buying a home together and occasionally one would place a hand on the other’s shoulder, just as the man and wife in the story before theirs did.
Those guys were excited about their new home, they love each other and that defines happiness and freedom in every age.
I don’t have to understand their relationship to enjoy it.
Change moves too swiftly for people who grew up in a different world. Political protests, gay pride parades, LGBTQ demands and the like scare us old folks into a corner we can’t understand.
But I’m not too old to learn.
So, here’s the thing: If you’re a young person, try to realize that your parents and grandparents are wise in their years and life experience. They have much wisdom to share, but they didn’t grow up in the same world you did. You have as much to teach them as they can teach you. Just do it gently, patiently and with love.
If you’re an old fart like me, remember that we are the Flower Children, the original Peace and Love Generation who set out to change the world with freedom for all.
“Harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding; No more falsehoods or derisions, Golden living dreams of visions; mystic crystal revelation and the mind’s true liberation, Aquarius!… Aquarius!…”
— The Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In Copyright 1967 Lyrics by James Rado, Gerome Ragni, Galt MacDermot
We would have had a gay pride parade fifty years ago if we had thought of it.
PS. I’m working on the transgender thing. Please be patient.
(Copyright 2017, D.L. Williams. All rights reserved.)