I live in what’s called a NORC, or a naturally occurring retirement community. In other words, there are a lot of old folks in my neighborhood, which is great because they call you dear in a totally non-condescending way, and also “young lady,” which I especially like. For obvious reasons.

And of course, relative to them, 42-year-old women who are not considered young anywhere else are, in fact, young.

So, you know, I love it. Until what happened the other day with that pesky Greenpeace canvasser sort of happened back to me!

I was walking through the garden outside my building, spaced out with thirty thousand mostly unimportant things on my mind. I realized I’d wandered past the path to the door, and I made an abrupt left to head into the building. There was an elderly woman who was walking slower than I was in the same direction, and I cut her off. I didn’t intend to, of course. No one would do that on purpose! Why would anyone do that on purpose?

I was about to apologize, but as I opened my mouth to speak, she glared at me and said, “You’re excused.”

I sucked in my breath. It seemed disrespectful to tear her a new one, even though she was not exactly bubbling over with respect for me. For all I know, she lived through the Holocaust. For all I know her kids never call her and her husband was rude to her for 35 years before he left her for his secretary at his middling fur wholesaling business and then had a stroke so she took him back and grudgingly cared for him until he finally died and left her all by herself. So I took a breath, said nothing, and went into the building.

But it make me wonder: How come when I reamed out that Greenpeace canvasser, she had no problem giving it back to me, a woman twice her age? But when I get reamed out by a woman twice MY age, I swallow my feelings and move on? Are young people just plain ruder than people my age? Would the 21-year-old have given it back to a woman in her ’80s? Or is there some magical age at which people feel that you have lived long enough to deserve to be, if not respected, exactly, at least deferred to?

I’m leaning toward the latter, and am taking it as a sign that the canvasser stood up to me (not effectively, but doggedly) because she saw me as young enough to be confrontational with. She knew I could take it and what’s more, she didn’t feel I had earned her deference.

This, I’m thinking, is a good thing. The day I give some young whippersnapper a piece of my mind and she says nothing or, worse, “So, so sorry, ma’am. You’re right,” I’ll know I’m over the hill.

Photo by Katie Tegtmeyer CC