Elise (left) and Carolyn, her younger sister, are seen here in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, in 1982.

Elise (left) and Carolyn, her younger sister, are seen here in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, in 1982.

by Elise Seyfried

Well, folks, it happened last summer. I got my first senior citizen discount in the supermarket I frequent at the Delaware shore. Shoppers ages 55 and up get a 5% discount every Tuesday. I stood in line with my driver’s license, ready to prove I was old enough (it’d been awhile since I’d been carded, but I knew the drill). Much to my chagrin, when I asked for the discount, the (ridiculously young) cashier merely responded, “I thought so!” and proceeded to ring up my 5% off without even checking my ID. My measly savings ruined my day, I tell you! Clearly, the people who tell me I don’t look my age are liars! Next time, I’ll show Superfresh—I WON’T ask for my 5%. So there!!

Age is a funny thing (funny peculiar, not funny ha-ha). When I was in my teens, I yearned for nothing more than adulthood. It drove me crazy when the grownups told me to enjoy my youth. Youth to me meant restrictions and being belittled. My opinion didn’t matter. I was just a kid, after all (even though, to my mind, I had far more sophisticated views on politics, religion, you name it, than my clueless parents). 18 was a triumph, 21 even more so. And so on I flew through my 20s, 30s and 40s, blessed with a big smile and a freckled Irish face and a manic energy level that erased years just as I began to wish for a little erasure.

I expected that life’s ups and downs would tell on me a bit (nothing like birthing five children for retaining toned abs!), but I didn’t count on the wrinkles and how fast they would appear. Good thing my eyes began to give out around then. My morning visage in the mirror became a comforting blur. In my head and my heart, I was frozen in time, and the time was 1982.

So I am brought up short by the fact that I am getting old. My earthly span is, by any standard, more than half over (unless I start hanging out with centenarians on a regular basis, which, come to think of it, is a dandy idea. For example, I am the youngest member of my Bible study, and it’s delightful). My memory is failing rapidly; my reflexes ain’t what they used to be. I flake out ridiculously early at night (me, who used to begin her social evenings after 9 p.m.). I’m the older lady blocking Aisle 6 reading the ingredients on the food labels (when I remember to bring my reading glasses to the store) to make sure whatever it is I may be consuming boosts my “good” cholesterol (whatever that means). Ugh to all of it!

It is a young, young world, where the latest technology is designed (I’m convinced) to confound people of a certain age, and make our landscape a puzzling and disorienting place for those with gray hair. I squirm when I recall my impatience with my folks, especially my mom Joanie. She took computer courses, for Lord’s sake, and still didn’t know what a website was. (I asked her for the Today Show’s web address and she replied, “30 Rockefeller Center.”)

There was no hurry in Joanieland. She’d reread the same books over and over again (often tomes about the Kennedys, with whom she was obsessed). She’d be totally content with a trip to the pool and meandering conversations at the water’s edge with other seniors. Borrring!! Why couldn’t she just keep up, just snap it along?

Well, now she is gone, and I wonder why I hurried her so during her last years. On some level, she knew she was nearing her end on this planet and was putting the brakes on to get the most out of her time left. She didn’t need a daughter on such an absurdly tight schedule, urging her forward. I’m so sorry, mom. I deserve to have my kids do the exact same thing to me as my pace slows, even as I pray they will be more patient than I was.

As I watch the cashier ring up my discounted order, I realize I’m on the other side of the mountain called life, heading inexorably down. Heading home, to a God who is waiting — patiently — for me someday. May I cherish my elders, soon to be my contemporaries, and let go of my hangup about being young. I’ll never be 26 again (or 56, for that matter). Let me continue to challenge myself, physically and mentally, but then give me the grace to slow down. There’s nothing wrong with a senior discount. In fact, it’s kind of cool.