In a Canadian city, sitting at the end of my hotel bed, I was watching BBC. To put my mood into context, allow me to explain how I often experience Canada. Having grown up in Michigan, going into Canada isn’t a very foreign experience. Because the trip is so short for us, aside from having to sit in traffic at the border, there is very little difference between the nearby Canadian cities and the Michigan ones. There is, however, a difference. It is slight, and very difficult to describe. I think what is at the bottom of this difference is that because it is so close to the United States, and the amenities are comparable you don’t really treat Canada the same as you would other foreign countries. Thus whenever something is slightly different, you often apply the same expectations/critiques that you would had the same happened to you in the United States.
Thus, I was watching BBC alert to slight differences, when a report came up about employment in England. As I sat there multitasking between watching tv and playing a game on my iPad, I overheard the reporter say that the oldest working woman in England was 95 years old. Instantly my ears perked up. 95 YEARS OLD?!! Who was this woman? Why was she still working? What did she do? Where was the state to stop her from working at such an old age? She couldn’t possibly still be competent in whatever capacity she was serving. This was far too old an age to be useful to society.
Unfortunately, all of these thoughts raced through my head. I was personally offended that this older woman was still working. I was even conflicted between feeling this anger towards the society that she lived in that MUST have been pressuring her to work or didn’t provide adequate support so she had to continue to work for financial reasons and the woman herself. I mean, how dare she work at that age and force others to pick up the slack for her inability to keep up with the rest. I listened to the reporter intently, completely ignoring game and buzzing phone nearby. This woman, it turns out, was a Drivers Ed Instructor and she was quite spirited. She had never gotten a ticket and had never been in an accident. As she spoke while being interviewed I couldn’t help but notice that she didn’t seem to look as old as I expected. She most definitely had her wits about her, having no trouble giving the reporter commands as he took a driving class with her.
I instantly became aware of my prejudice. I had automatically assumed that this woman couldn’t possibly have been doing this because she wanted, or that she was being coerced by the powers that be, when in reality, she was still quite capable and willing to do this job. By the end of the interview I was convinced that her youthful spirit and chipper demeanor were probably a result of having maintained this level of independence. While I do believe that over time there are certain limitations that humans encounter, be they health related or circumstantial, overall, I do not think it’s a bad idea for people to continue to work in some capacity. I’ve met retirees who seem bored and uninspired by the world around them. I’ve also met some that seem to have an ever-growing fire of curiosity inside of them. If the difference between the two happens to be that one group has continued to participate in the society around them while the other one has moved into a type of retirement that closes their world to a limited one, then I choose to be a part of the first. We often treat older people as fragile when we should look at them as valuable resources. You want to know what life has in store, talk to someone who has lived it. Ultimately, only time will tell if I will have the fortune to be capable of being as active as that 95-year-old woman. I sure do hope that I do. And to her, well I say, you go girl. I hope she continues to break the boundaries and shows people that arbitrarily assigning an age at which work should cease should not be a widely employed practice.