I’m used to being treated with respect. The way I carry myself invites deference. I go by the title of “doctor” (academic degree). I have published six books. And the history of my work on the battlefields of Vietnam for the better part of thirteen years often precedes me when I go into a new setting.
But as I have aged, I have noticed a difference in the way people act toward me. The regard people show me is, these days, tinged with condescension. Others treat me as though I am impaired and require special handling. I sometimes get the sense that they see me as a child—or perhaps as an old person in his second childhood. None of this seems to be based on what I have done or said but simply on how old I look. That makes it all the worse because there is a general consensus that I don’t look as old as I really am.
The whole situation is made worse by my deafness. Time in combat and the shelling during the fall of Saigon damaged my hearing. It has gradually worsened as I aged. Because of lip reading and careful attention (and hearing aids), I rarely fail to understand what is being said to me. But if I’m looking away while others are speaking or there is recurring background noise, I sometimes ask others to repeat what they’ve said. Too often, younger interlocutors then proceed to slow down their speech, raise their voice, and simplify their words as though they were talking to a child.
As I’ve noted before in this blog, my body does not, in fact, work as well as it did when I was younger. All my senses have declined, my muscles and coordination are less reliable, even my breathing is more labored. The worst is my brain. It doesn’t work as fast or as smoothly as it once did, and my memory regularly fails me.
That said, I am better able to think than I ever was. My mind, that incorporeal function that sees, judges, and concludes, grows sharper every year. It is with the mind that one writes. My writing continues to improve.
So I ask others to look upon me and others who are aging with the respect we are due, not because of how old we are, but because of the human beings we are. We are people. See us that way. Treat us that way. And love us for who we are.