By Dan Schantz
“Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly . . .” (Leviticus 19:32).
With church members in America steadily aging, we need to know how to respectfully address our elders, but the last thing we need is more politically correct gag orders.
Therefore, now that my body has passed its “best by” date, I hereby give you permission to call me by any of the following terms.
YOU CAN CALL ME . . .
1. Old Fogy—Meaning “old-fashioned,” or “living in the past,” the term fogy comes from the word fog, and describes the way some old people go around in a daze: confused, forgetful, lost.
I do live in a fog, but I have been that way most of my life. So, I’ve had a lot of practice dealing with it. Many of my 18-year-old college students lived in a fog, too: confused, late to class, forgetful. It’s life, not age.
As for living in the past, I am relieved to be rid of much of it. Take the hymns, for example. We seniors have been accused of worshipping the hymns more than God himself, but there are many hymns I never liked. Especially the militant ones, like “Onward Christian Soldiers,” “The Fight Is On,” and “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus.” I am simply not a militant person, and these songs embarrassed me. Back then, most churches used a hymnbook with, say, 758 pages, but they sang the same 27 songs all year because those were the only ones the pianist could play. Needless to say, I am burned out on those 27 tunes. If I hear “Standing On the Promises” one more time, I think I will run, screaming, into the street. Truth is, we older members like many of the new tunes, and I especially like new arrangements of the old hymns, the best of both worlds.
2. Old Geezer—From the root guiser, it’s the word for disguise, and it refers to the way we become hard to recognize as we get older, because of weight gain, hair loss, or eccentric behavior.
I was invited to speak at an anniversary service of a church where I had been the preacher 40 years previously. To my amusement, no one recognized me when I walked in the front door! They were still expecting the same skinny, 29-year-old boy with black hair and shiny, white teeth.
Oddly enough, I like myself better now than I did back then. I may not be as strong, but I am much more disciplined and organized, so I get a lot more done with less strain. I find salt-and-pepper hair to be more interesting than monotone black, and I still have all my own teeth, thanks to modern dentistry. When I look in the mirror, I see my Dad, and there could be no greater honor than to look like him.
So, yes, I am a geezer, and, no, it doesn’t hurt.
3. Old Codger—This is the Old English term for beggar, and back then most older folk were poor and dependent.
I am a beggar, and I am not ashamed of it. Everything I have is a gift from God, and I know it could vanish overnight. I am extremely dependent on my redhead for judgment, companionship, clean jeans, and tasty food. I prize the advice I get from my daughters—they keep me from getting strange. And I often need help from friends and neighbors.
I live on a small, unfunded pension and evaporating savings. Consequently, I still have to work . . . and I’m glad. I preach almost every Sunday, somewhere, and I write for a variety of publications. I raise some of my own food, repair my own cars, mow my own yard, and mop the floors for Sharon, who can no longer do that. Most days I don’t get done with everything on my list.
I’m not selling pencils on a street corner yet, but I am truly an old codger, dependent on God and his children.
4. Old Fuddy Duddy—From the words fussy and dud, the term describes the way some old folks get very fussy about how they do things and are unable to change. (In other words, they are duds.)
My wife and I still do some things the old-fashioned way because we enjoy the old ways. We have never felt any pressure to be contemporary, just for the sake of being contemporary. Usually we blend the old and the new.
I am writing this article with a pencil on paper, because I love the feel of a pencil sliding over paper. But I will load it into my Mac for editing and export.
My wife loves to hang laundry outdoors, where she can enjoy the sunshine. The clothes last longer when they are not tumbling in a dryer. But she has a dryer for rainy days.
We boomers have lived through a tsunami of change in the last 40 years, but we don’t get enough credit for the way we’ve adjusted to it and even initiated some of the change.
Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, and Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, were both born in 1955, but they are still leading change agents in the world.
5. Grumpy Old Man—Just yesterday my wife said to me, “You are truly grumpier than you used to be, but it’s mostly amusing.”
“Well,” I growled back, “studies show that grumpy people live longer, so you should be glad.”
Some of my grumpiness comes from not being able to see well, hear well, or walk without wincing. Paul said, “We groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:2). Grumpiness is my version of “groaning toward Heaven.”
Most of my grumpiness, however, comes from watching television. When I see my Christian values being mocked by newscasters, actors, and politicians, I get more than grouchy. Like ancient Lot in Sodom, I am vexed by the sinful and suicidal lifestyles of Americans.
“It’s just a generational change,” young people tell me, but they are naive. It will be the difference between Heaven and Hell for many, and “hell on earth” for the children of these experimental lifestyles.
See how grumpy I can be? Get used to it.
THE GOLDEN RULE OF THUMB
The five terms listed here are just a few of many ageist pejoratives for older people, and most of them are “male.” I will leave old bitty and old hussy to some female writer.
What should we call older people? Kindness is the rule of thumb. My wife says, in her Irish voice, “You shouldn’t mock something that people cannot help, like baldness or changing body shape.” So, old baldy and hunchback are definitely out.
The Bible uses the terms old, older, elder, and aged, so those are fine.
One AARP study showed that most Americans are happiest with just being called older. After all, everybody is older than somebody, even a 3-year-old. And seniors got high marks, too.
New terms are being invented all the time, like classic citizens, keenagers, prime timers, and groovy grays, but personally, I find them a bit too cute.
I like it when young people call me Sir or Mister, not because I have any need to be revered, but because it’s good for them to practice respect.
Frankly, I’m fine with the term old. Jonathan Swift said, “No wise man ever wished to be younger,” and we seniors know exactly what he meant. We may want to conserve some old values, but we have no desire to go back, only forward.
Like many seniors, I am shocked at how happy I am at this stage of life. When you begin to run out of years, every day is like Christmas.
Old age is many things. I am no dwarf, but all in one day, I can be Bashful, Doc, Dopey, Sleepy, Sneezy, and Happy. But above all, Grumpy.
Dan Schantz taught “Education of Adults” at Central Christian College for many years.