“We contain all the ages we have ever been.”- Ann Lamott
Throughout the millennia, cultures all over the world have revered the oldest members of their communities for their wisdom gained over decades of joys and sorrows. Younger people have flocked to them for advice on navigating life’s difficult passages, and their words have been carefully considered. Societies have made loving arrangements for the care of older people within the heart of their families, grateful for all the care they have given in their younger years for their children and grandchildren.
Not this society, though.
In the twenty-first century west, age has become shameful. People are hesitant to state their age, even though we all rejoice that we are living longer than ever. Ashton Applewhite wants us to proudly own our years. She is trying to show us how “You look great for your age” is not a compliment. Does this mean that most women your age look like hags? We have all— including “olders,” as she calls them— internalized damaging stereotypes about older people and believed negative talking points that pit one generation against another. As she says, “…pitting groups against each other… is a time-honored tactic used by the wealthy and powerful to divide those who might otherwise unite against them in pursuit of a fairer world for all…. When issues are instead framed as zero-sum—more for ‘them’ means less for ‘us’—it’s harder to see that the public good is at stake and the issue affects everyone.”
For example, the idea that older people are using up younger workers’ money because they require so much care. First of all, senior citizens paid into the Social Security System all of their lives, so those benefits are not an entitlement. Secondly, everyone uses the greatest amount of health care money in the last two years of their lives, whether they die at 19 or 90. We are blessed in our country to usually be at the higher end of that lifespan.
Applewhite takes on many such issues with hard data and practical advice. She discusses the plight of the more seasoned adult who does not want to retire early, including those who take on a second career. She talks about older and younger people relating to one another in the workplace, and she is sensitive to ageism toward younger people, as well. Brain health is one of our foremost worries as the years go by, and she has good news on that front. She also writes about senior sexuality, physical health, and independent living. Applewhite looks death squarely in the eye, presenting information from a secular, practical viewpoint. Lastly, she brings together all of the topics she has covered into an action plan with something for everyone. Some of us can run for office or start organizations, but others may just finally get the courage to tell that young nurse, “Please stop calling me ‘dear’ and ‘sweetheart.’ I am not a toddler.”
So get ready to hold a lively conversation the next time you hear, “OK, Boomer.” Baby Boomers are responsible for the greatest increase in civil rights in this nation, and they are a hard-working, responsible generation. We’ve gone from paper and pencil math to iPads, and we’re loving it. There is much to celebrate here, and much to deplore. Ageism is the last “-ism” to be tolerated in our country, and it is way past time to put legal and social improvements in place to bring it to its final resting place. Ashton Applewhite will be your passionate and erudite guide to make it happen now.
Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, although it was published in 2019. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.