Thoughts on Turning 65
Turning 65 can be traumatic, but as Abby Hochhauser discovers, there are benefits too…
I’ll admit it – I’m just turning 65 and I’m proud of it (sort of). Living in Israel, it was hard to get my non-American friends to understand the significance. If you don’t already know, 65 is the traditional retirement age in the US and, as such, it’s when you must switch from your private health insurance to the national health insurance, i.e. Medicare.
Last year, I was excited about turning 64 because I had grown up singing along with the Beatles “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?” It was a cute little bit of silliness that made getting a year older a bit less traumatic for me. I even taught part of the song to the grandkids. I particularly liked the part saying, “You can knit a sweater by the fireside, Sunday mornings go for a ride” because these are both activities I enjoy. I don’t think when I first heard that song I could imagine ever really being that old, but I still liked it.
This year, however, I had very different feelings about the arrival of another birthday. I’ve never outgrown my excitement about birthdays – presents, cards, celebrations and, in the past few years many good wishes on Facebook – so I usually look forward to each birthday, at least a little. And then the major trauma set in with the arrival in my mailbox of, not a typical birthday greeting, a chilling reminder of the passing of time: my very own Medicare Card!
What??? How could this be? How could I possibly be old enough to have such a card of my own? I had seen and used the cards of each of my parents, when helping them with various medical issues. But they were “old” – after all they are my parents.
This August, when my mother called me, as she does every year, to wish me a happy birthday, she asked me how I felt. I don’t think she was expecting the answer she got: “How do I feel? How do you think I feel? I just got my very own Medicare card!” I think she thought it was funny that I was so traumatized turning 65. I didn’t want to insult her by explaining that I didn’t want to be considered as part of her “generation” – Senior Citizens. I am not, nor do I want to be thought of as a member of what Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation.” Those are the Americans who grew up during the Great Depression and then lived through World War II. In Israel, the “Ezrach Vatik” folks are those who survived the Holocaust and/or helped establish the modern State of Israel. How did I come to be part of those venerated elders? How did this happen? I’m a Baby Boomer – note: it has the word “baby” in it!
I don’t mind calling myself a “Senior” when it gets me really good discounts on New Jersey Transit tickets and movie admissions when I’m in the USA. Here in Israel, it seems to me no one minds admitting to being a senior because there are such huge “Ezrach Vatik” or “pensioner” discounts available. For example, two years ago, when I was barely over the Israeli age requirement for Senior discounts, my husband and I celebrated our anniversary by going to Cinema City in Jerusalem. For approximately the equivalent of five US dollars, we purchased two movie tickets and several kosher snacks. Even though it was a novelty to be able to go to the movies and gorge ourselves on anything the refreshment stand could offer, our senior discount was actually the most memorable part of the day. It was more exciting than the movie itself (which I don’t even recall). It was more exciting than the life-size dioramas of scenes from the Bible cleverly displayed on the Cinema City rooftop.
But now I am 65, I have that blasted Medicare card which screams at me that I am OLD – that my days are numbered. Today, a very nice young person told me age was just a number – how I feel is more important. Well, some days I feel really old, for example, when my knees demand another rest, or when I try to get up from sitting or kneeling on the floor. So that was not really comforting.
In the future, I don’t know if I’ll be able to laugh the next time a grandchild asks me if I was alive when George Washington was President. And I think I’ll be able to keep a straight face if another one asks me if the only cellphones available, when I was his age, were Nokia “dumb phones.” (They don’t even know what I’m talking about when I tell them we didn’t even have pushbutton phones when I was a kid.)
Another thing I am reluctant to acknowledge is that, when people offer me a seat on a bus or a waiting room, etc. it’s because they think I look like I need one. But, on the other hand, I actually do need a seat. As a matter of fact, if no one offers me one, I am not too shy to ask (in Hebrew or English), if they’d be willing to give me their seat. I’m just happy to sit down!
And yet… when I went to my former optometrist in New Jersey this past summer, I had to inform the receptionist I did not have any medical insurance to cover my visit. As horrified as I am by possessing that card, when she asked if I had Medicare, rather than be insulted to think I looked old enough to have one, I saw dollar signs and the opportunity to save a few bucks and said, “Of course,” and proudly presented my card.
In conclusion, I guess aging is, like everything else, a double-edged sword. I am grateful to still be on this planet to enjoy all it has to offer and to be with my family. I am grateful that my health issues are relatively minor. I feel very blessed to share the privilege of living in Eretz Israel (the land of Israel) with my husband, my children and my grandchildren. However, I think it will take me more time – maybe until my next “milestone” birthday – to accept the realities of what lies ahead – hopefully far in the future.