What's in a Word?

It is amazing how the same word, with its simple meaning, can have totally different suggestions and implications to us as we age and continue onward in our lifetime journey. I’m thinking here of the word ‘senior’. This word of course means ‘higher in rank’, ‘holding a high or authoritative position’, ‘longer in service’, ‘more experienced’, and of course ‘older.’

We elders unfortunately recognize that in our individual cases, senior means older. But think about it for a moment. Remember being a senior in high school? We were ecstatic to be called seniors. We were the top dogs; underclassmen looked up to us, we had special privileges and duties because we were seniors, and we had the world by the tail. We spent a lot of our senior year preparing and planning for a new life, new experiences, and new expectations as we completed that last year in high school. We figured we were the big shots and the hottest items ever to walk away clutching our graduating diplomas.

We then moved on, aspiring to become senior management, or senior accountants, or senior editors, perhaps senior advisors, or some position of prestige and authority that often had the word ‘senior’ attached to it.

Well guess what, folks? We are now all seniors, even if it is only seniors in age. What the heck happened? How did we reach senior status so quickly? Suddenly the word ‘senior’ has lost its glow. I never strived to become a senior citizen, but it happened anyway, without any effort whatsoever on my part.

Even though I have become a woman of a certain age, I find it difficult to think of myself as a senior, but I definitely do not qualify as much else. Unfortunately, on the Senior Citizen’s Day that some stores offer, I don’t even have to politely point out to the check-out clerks that yes indeed, believe it or not, I DO qualify as a senior. They already know that just by taking a cursory glance at me.

As a friend helpfully pointed out, a person is as old as she feels, in which case some days I am 97 and other days I am a spry 33.

Not one to let well enough alone, I began to consider what I could call myself if I decide I no longer want to be a senior citizen; what describes a person such as myself who most certainly watched middle age depart in the rear-view mirror years ago but definitely rebels at the thought of seniorhood? In my opinion I have not been middle aged for quite some time but I do not feel like a little old lady quite yet. So what can I call myself so I can forget about this word ‘senior’??

To help solve this dilemma, I pulled out one of my favorite books, Roget’s thesaurus, and began a quest to identify myself in the scheme of years. I started with ‘senior’ and found ‘elderly’ (definitely not!) and ‘superior’ (hey, I can live with that one even if it doesn’t quite fit). I then checked ‘age’ and definitely did not like what I found under that entry. (Who is calling whom decrepit? And hey, a fossil goes well beyond the senior years in my opinion.)

I moved through the ‘mature’ entry, the ‘discretion’ entry, the ‘between’ and the ‘completeness’ entries and found nothing that fit. I finally decided the word that fits me best is ‘reluctance’ so these are my reluctant years. I know darn well I will never be anything remotely considered youthful again, I know I am poised on a slippery slope that only slides downhill with each passing day and I cannot step off this little ride I am on, nor can I alter the direction I am heading. So reluctantly I have reached my senior years, reluctantly I admit I am no longer agile, nubile, wrinkle-free, and svelte; my string bikini days are long gone, if they ever existed at all, and I reluctantly admit that I am approaching my rocking-chair-at-the home days.

In spite of this dismal outlook, I have one ray of hope: I can cultivate my coming role as the community’s cane waving irascible little old lady. People tend to dismiss and often underestimate little old ladies anyway, so I ought to be able to properly fill this role. I don’t yet need a cane, but as my senior tenure continues, I have become a lot more vocal about those things that annoy me, so unfortunately, I feel positive that irascibility will come as easily to me as drinking a cup of tea.

I will try to behave like that poster that has made the round of the Internet: I want to be the little old lady who when I wake up in the morning, the devil says, “Oh no, she’s awake!”

I also remind myself that being a senior isn’t so bad. As someone said, I do not know who, “Be grateful for old age. It is a privilege denied to many.”


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