Adapting To Feeling Unseen: How I’m Navigating a World That Overlooks The Aging

Beautiful inside and out—

I gave a little start when those words flashed onto the screen during a presentation by the poet Elizabeth Bradfield. Liz was in the process of describing six-word memoirs, modeled on Hemingway’s heartbreaking story For sale: Baby shoes. Never used.

The photograph showed a wall from the 6 Words Minneapolis project, in which city residents were asked to briefly describe themselves. This entry spoke directly to an experience I’d been having of late but hadn’t quite been able to name.

Consider: I smile at a young couple who are walking with their baby out of the grocery store as I enter. Their eyes flit briefly over my face and body without expression.

Waiting in a loose group of people for service at a food truck—there doesn’t seem to be a line—the fellow taking orders looks straight at me and then asks the guy in back of me what he’d like.

In a park a young couple finishes a photo shoot for their engagement pictures and walk toward me on a narrow gravel path. I smile and say, “Beautiful day.” They squint and pass by as if they’ve heard a noise but can’t place what it might be.

Every time this happens, it shocks me. I’m not that old! A little wrinkled, yes, but not even close to elderly.

True, I can’t know exactly what was going on in each of these instances. Maybe the couple with the baby were in the middle of an argument. Maybe the man behind me at the food truck had somehow gotten there first. The couple in the park—that one’s hard to explain away. I was right in front of them. But maybe they didn’t hear me.

Still, this kind of thing happens to me a lot now, and I’ve got to think it’s because as a somewhat older woman, people routinely overlook me.

I guess I have no right to be surprised, because at a younger age I behaved exactly the same way. Working for newspapers in my twenties, I counted myself among the young reporters who were (we flattered ourselves) the only ones doing cutting-edge journalism.

We paid scant attention to articles by our colleagues older than forty—who, I realize now, had a great deal they could have taught us. The same was true in my thirties and even forties when I was a freelance writer. Like many of my contemporaries, I wished the old fogeys would get out of the way and give us youngsters room to forge new ground.

I should have seen this coming.

Still, my new membership in society’s invisible masses comes as a shock. While I don’t…

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