Continued from page 19
cipating the second half of our lives freed
of many of the worries and responsibilities
that went with our younger years: the dependency of our children, the anxieties
(recently discarded with joy) of wanting
to please everybody.
Old is knowing what's precious,
savoring what's important. Old is being
gutsy enough to ask questions without fear
of appearing stupid (knowing that the essence of stupidity is to not ask for fear of
appearing stupid) not to waste time with
inconsequentia, yet caring enough to spend
time on things that might to a younger person appear inconsequential. It's knowing
the consequences of using others and of allowing oneself to be used. It's not being
too hard and not being too soft. It's having
seen it all but knowing there's more to
come. Maybe it's having less to lose and
therefore being less reluctant to risk it all.
To lie about your age is to prejudge
yourself and everyone who looks old or
who indeed is old. It is to forget the person
and remember only the label: "old." That's
what we used to do when we remembered
only religion and made such remarks as
"a. Catholic could never be elected President." That's what we used to do when we
kept blacks out of universities and women
out of executive suites. We forgot about
persons and saw labels instead. Only "exceptional" persons managed to overcome
the self-fulfilling prophecies about people
who bore those labels.
But there are some unique characteristics of the label "old." No one's born
with it. There are no adoring mothers whispering through a lifetime; "You're okay.
You can do anything! Go out and show
'em!" Instead, there is a lifetime of exposure to the myths about old age. Older persons who don't fit the myth—people such
as Arthur Fiedler, Leon Jaworski, Georgia
O'Keeffe, Bob Hope, Rose Kennedy, Margaret Mead, Benjamin Spock and Helen
Hayes—are rarely taken as role models. Instead, society continues to look at them as
"exceptional"—people making the best of a
bad situation, doing with a "bad" age what
Barbra Streisand did with a "bad" nose.
If being old, instead of putting you
in that powerless, unemployable, re
stricted, dependent, intractable, difficult,
childlike place, gave you new freedoms,
rights and responsibilities, you might decide that being old is, as Alex Comfort put
it, a good age after all.
There's only one way that will happen. All of us over 40 can learn from the
civil-rights and women's movements. We
can, like the gays, come out of the closet,
acknowledge our age, and then set about
making society's institutions, especially
government, responsive to our needs. Only
by sophisticated politicization can we affirm our label and at the same time escape
it. Old people who are having fun and enjoying their lives say almost without exception that they no longer think of themselves in terms of age. Nor do their friends.
They've escaped their label as surely as
Streisand has escaped her nose. Yet everyone still knows it's there.
Let's make "old" a label to be proud
of. Ageing people of America, unite! You
have nothing to lose but vour age.
I wrote this because what's important about me and to me is not my age.
But for your information, I'm 52. I am a
woman. My many roles include, in no particular order, being a mother, wife, daughter, writer, editor and friend.
During the past 8 to 10 years, many
people to whom I have told my age have
said, "But you don't look 52"—or 50, or
whatever I was at the time. That's considered a compliment in this society, which
worships youth and denigrates age. For a
long time I was vaguely distressed every
time I heard this so-called compliment. I
found it hard to conceptualize in my own
mind—let alone tell the person—why it
bothered me. But it did.
Then one day it came to me: If I
don't look or act (another "compliment")
52, how exactly is a 52-year-old woman
supposed to look and act? Why is looking
and acting your age—when that age happens to be over 40 or 50 or 60—such an insult (opposite of compliment, right)? And
why should I feel so damned good about
not looking 52 (or 62 or 72) when, first,
I'm bound to look that way eventually,
and second, when I do, I don't want to be
excluded from anything? Get it?
Continued from page 34
standards; they just demonstrated them."
Lissa, who tagged along on her father's
sabbaticals to Paris, Rome and Geneva, was
sampling Swiss ski slopes while her friends
back home were skateboarding down Telegraph Avenue. At 14 she won the Swiss
Gold Medal, the highest award given to a
private citizen, for skiing in 10 kinds of
deep powder. "I taught skiing in California
and played tennis in the Berkeley community," she says. "But I didn't do either
competitively. I guess I always liked to do
things on an intramural level."
On this point, the two Rhodes diverged. Competitive sports were so important to Denise Thai that as a high school
junior she wrote to her state senator demanding the right to try out for the boys*
tennis team at Berkley High. It was in the
spring of 1972, two months before the
passage of Title IX, and her school had no
girls' team. Denise went to court and won
the landmark case, becoming the first girl
in Michigan high school history to play on
a boys' team. She played third singles.
"My high school didn't have anything for
girls back then," says Thai. "Now they
have a pool and a sports complex, and it's
completely different. I wish the decision
had come earlier." But it's not the pool or
the sports complex that triggers this lament. "I would have loved to play Little
League," says Thai.
Despite their frequent forays into the
politics of athletic administration, sports
was less a cause than an addiction with
them. "Sports is the main thing in my
life," says Thai. Muscatine agrees. "My
body goes absolutely berserk without exercise. If I don't run four miles a day, or do
something else, my body won't tolerate it.'
Muscatine graduated in 1976, was
awarded the Radcliffe Alumna Athletic
Award for her fight to push through
changes at Harvard and left Cambridge for
Greenville, Mississippi, where she worked
for the civil rights-minded Delta Democrat-
Times. Though she insisted she did not go
south for scholarly pursuits, there was a
natural tie-in between her employment
and her summa history thesis, which was
based on 2,200 interviews with Civil War
slaves. Her thesis traced the development
of the black family in slavery, with special
attention paid to the role of women in
the family and the effect of that development on present cultural patterns.
When she wasn't pounding out
stories for the Delta Democrat-Times, Muscatine stayed in shape playing tennis and
jogging. Meanwhile, back in Cambridge,
Thai had dropped off the basketball team
to give more time to her own senior thesis
but continued as top singles player for the
tennis team. In November she wrote to
Muscatine apologizing for not writing more
often. It seems she'd been too busy applying for a Rhodes Scholarship to write.
Needless to say, Muscatine knew the
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PAGE 34 NOVEMBER 19, 1977 DAILY BREAKTHROUGH