Recently I came out of a lunch meeting at Portland’s Cumberland Club to find my car missing from where I was sure I had parked it, on a quiet side street a few blocks away. I panicked. Where was my car? But my first thought wasn’t that my car had been stolen or towed. My first thought was that I was losing my mind. Literally. As in dementia.

I walked up and down the street. Checked and rechecked street name signs. Walked up and down parallel streets. No car, anywhere. I sat down on someone’s front steps in despair, head in hands, and thought, “I’m almost 70 and I’ve lost my mind, along with my car. What to do? Call 911? Check myself into an assisted living center?”

Of course, I was reacting irrationally. After a few minutes of head-clearing deep breathing, I got up and walked back to where I was sure (or at least hallucinated) I had parked my car. And right there, just a few feet from my parking spot I saw, for the first time, a street sign indicating that parking was not allowed on the day and time I had parked there; right below that, a smaller sign with a drawing of a car being towed. In my rush to get to my meeting on time, I’d completely missed this warning sign. I wasn’t demented, just stupid. In too big of a hurry to be even remotely observant.

It cost me close to $200 and the better part of my day to locate and retrieve my car. But that’s another story. The point of this story is to question why I make such a radical, self-defeating assumption. I assumed I’d lost my mind, scattered my mental marbles, rather than simply making a forgivable mistake of lapsed attention.

OK, I readily admit my mind isn’t what it used to be. I sometimes forget names, struggle to find the right word in conversation, and have trouble recalling dates and chronologies. But I’m far from senile. In fact, in some ways my mind has improved.

It occurs to me now that I was a victim of self-reflective ageism. Because I was approaching my eighth decade of life, I assumed my brain was slowly but inevitably turning to mush, a soupy porridge of misfiring synapses. During my 60s, I never felt old. But 70? That sounded old to me. Like I was crossing the Rubicon from a spry older adult to a doddery senior citizen. Research shows that the words “senior” and “elderly” are associated with the oldest and least competent among us. In my head I was becoming the kind of antediluvian creature who would forget where he parked his car in broad daylight!


But fortunately, I’m on the road to recovery and enlightenment, thanks to enrollment in the Leadership Exchange on Ageism program hosted by the Maine Council on Aging. In this intensive, 14-hour course, a small group of community leaders are learning how to better understand (and promote) “positive aging.” The first step in this learning process is recognizing that ageism, like racism or sexism, is a form of stereotyping, bias or discrimination.

Everyone is aging. And age is just a number. Unlike high golf scores, it needn’t be a handicap. In fact, in most cases, the accumulation of years is an advantage. Experience, wisdom, insight, reflection, perspective, judgment – all these positive attributes flow from full and productive lives. It’s what we older adults can share with the rest of the world.

Nearly half the population of Maine is old enough for membership in AARP, to paraphrase Greg Kesich, retired editorial page editor of this newspaper. We older Mainers are not idly hanging out in God’s Waiting Room, but actively living in the here and now, ready, willing and able to share our special, hard-earned, life-honed gifts.

We’re primed and ready to go.

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