A few years ago I decided to take a Philosophy class at a local community college. As you would expect, most of the students were between the ages of 16-25. I was the oldest at 57. Even so, the majority of those students were kind, and nodded to me if I passed them alone in the halls. I suppose I could have been the age of some of their grandmothers.
When I was a child, I didn’t see myself as young. As I grow old, I don’t see myself as old. When looking in the mirror, I have always expected to see someone else.
The world? Who do they see?
On the third day of class, a disturbing thing happened. The professor hadn’t arrived yet; we had all taken our chosen seats. The desks were arranged in a huge circle that faced the center of the room. It was autumn and the sky that I could see through the window was filled with dark clouds. I was thinking about the upcoming storm, wondering if I had left the cat outside. I suddenly realized someone was talking and everyone was looking at me.
The girl across the room looked angry and was talking loudly. The tirade was aimed at me. I must have missed the first sentence tor two, my brain raced to catch up.
“You’ve had your chance! Your whole f**king Baby Boomers had your shot. And you failed. It’s our turn now. Why do you take our education? Why do you take our jobs? Why do you take our Social Security? Can’t you just die and get out of our way?”
I had the chance to count the students in attendance. Not counting me there were 35, and all their eyes turned to me. No one uttered a sound.
The anger didn’t hit until much later. The feeling I recall was confusion. What had I done to set her off? I was just sitting in a seat that otherwise would have been empty. I paid my tuition just like everyone else. I simply existed within the same classroom, breathing the same air. We had no contact before this tirade. She didn’t know me, and I now had no wish to know her. I didn’t even know her name.
Does age disquiet some people to the extent that when I reached a certain age I should have just disappeared? Does her need to be comfortable require me to be uncomfortable? Was there someone in her past that she was reacting to just by having seen me sitting there daydreaming out the window? Am I that powerful, that much of an obstacle to her goals? Am I that dangerous? Should I shield myself from everyone younger, anyone who might think I was too well off, too talented, too happy, too old? Would that prevent them from feeling resentful, threatened or uncomfortable?
I slowly got up and gathered my things. In the stillness of the room I said quietly and slowly, “I pray that no one ever says those things to you. But, until they do, just remember it’s out there waiting for you. Karma sucks.” I walked out the door and didn’t return.
At least I think that’s what I said. I hope so. If I was writing the dialog, that’s what I would have the fifty-seven year old lady say.