Why Old is Not a Four Letter Word

Owning the beauty of age and experience

By C. J. Golden

When did old become a four-letter word? Is there a hidden letter lodged there somewhere that has the power to imbue the word with something dark, dirty, or less than savory?

It seems to me that though there are clearly just two consonants and a vowel in question, this simple three-letter word has become saddled with the same negative connotations we find in many four-letter words.

As a case in point, please allow me to describe an incident that occurred between my granddaughter Emily, her mother, and myself. One day two summers ago, as we headed to the American Girl Doll Café in New York City, I announced to young Emily that I was going to buy a doll for myself. Emily looked at me, quite taken aback, and announced, “You can’t, Grams. You can’t buy a doll.” When I asked her why not, she immediately replied, “You’re old.”

I cannot adequately describe the look of horror on her mother’s face. But before she could give Emily a lecture about the inappropriate nature of calling her grandmother old, I intervened. After all, for Emily, age seven, I, at 64, certainly qualified as old, and in my view the problem was not that she used that word; the problem lay in chastising her for using it. In so doing, that three-letter word was transformed into something quite different.

Halting the conversation between mother and child, I interjected, saying that Emily was quite correct—I was old. “However,” I continued, “Grams can still buy a doll and love that doll just as much as you love the doll I bought for you today.” And that was that; facts are facts: Emily is young, I am old, and old can buy a doll. And all of a sudden, old wasn’t a four-letter word.

Today, sitting at my desk writing this article, I reflect on all the experiences that have led me to value my age, to really own old: I’ve grown and matured; I’ve given birth to two gorgeous children who, in turn, have given birth to my magnificent grandchildren (sorry, a grandmother has to brag); I’ve gone through some difficult health issues; I’ve survived a divorce and, upon remarriage, have helped create a perfectly blended family; I’ve taken care of my elderly parents through the last years of their lives; and, inevitably, I’ve wept mightily at the loss of dear friends and family members.

And through all of this, I have survived, thrived, and learned the blessing of growing older. For whether or not the tabloids communicate the beauty of age, let me assure you that it is a privilege to reach this place. And when we recognize that fact, when we believe in our strength and pass it on to others, we remove the stigma attached to old and imbue the word, and ourselves, with newfound joy and fulfillment.

It’s an attitude thing, really. We are here now and have the choice to accept and be proud of our age, or we can treat ourselves as a four-letter word. Me? I’d much rather recognize my good fortune: I am a 67-year-old grandmother who is wise, strong, and fulfilled. Join me in showing the world that old is magnificent.