The young and the old

Do you ever feel like you’re being watched? Like when you’re out and you get that sense that someone’s eyes are on you but when you turn around, there’s no one there? I do and it drives me crazy. I don’t like people staring at me; it makes me feel self-conscious and I can’t relax when I get that feeling.

Of course most of it’s in my head but I’ve caught people staring at me before, so it’s not always my imagination. Sometimes it’s girls (occasionally guys) and it’s funny seeing their heads jerk away when I look back, suddenly interested in a speck on the wall. 😉 I don’t mind that as much but what I really don’t like is when people just stare for no reason.

Yesterday I had an appointment and I had to wait a while before I was seen. So I did what I normally do; I took out a notepad and started working through some ideas. After about two minutes I got that feeling and sure enough, several people were just staring at me. Not people-watching like some do, just openly staring. In the end I ignored it but when I got back home it still bothered me. It felt like they were staring at me because I was somehow out of place, and it bothered me more later than at the time.

Most of the people were older than me and I think that was part of it. Usually I don’t feel like my age is an issue with people but every now and then it is. All through school I could talk to people without them knowing my age but when they found out, suddenly my opinions didn’t have the same weight. I’ve had people doubt my age in my writing (and this blog) because I don’t sound my age when I write. And previously I’ve been told that I think too much; I should just go out, have fun and be 23. Well, what’s to say I’m not? This is who I am and if I were any different, I wouldn’t be me.

I dislike ageism with a passion. What I’ve always found interesting, though, is that most definitions of ageism describe it as discriminating against the elderly. I don’t disagree with that but to me ageism can be against any age group and we often overlook the presumptions we make about youth as well. Yes, some young people can be disrespectful, but not all of us. We’re the iPod generation but most of us study and work just as hard as anyone else. Plus we have the added pressure of trying to find homes and jobs (often for the first time) in a global market which has changed so much since 9/11. Ageism can go both ways but not everyone remembers that.

A few years ago something happened to me which is just one example. I’d been shopping with my mother and we were waiting to get the bus back home when a man (about 70) came up from nowhere and shouted at me, struck me across the shoulder and head as he brushed past, and left muttering insults about youth under his breath. I’d done nothing and was well out of his way; he targeted me, but what I remember most is that only a few people noticed. If I’d done it I’d have been up on assault charges; he did it, and for some reason I must have had it coming. If that’s not ageism, I don’t know what is.

It’s strange the way we ignore young people. We look at youth as the future; we say we want to teach them and prepare them for life, but often it’s an excuse to shape them the way we want. We crush them of their individuality and make them conform, and soon see all young people the same way. But who’s to say we really know what’s best? There’s a case in Wyoming at the moment where three 13 year old girls threw french fries during their lunch at school. The police have subsequently charged them with “hurling missiles”, an adult charge. Hurling missiles… have you ever heard anything more ridiculous? They deserve disciplining but if you give kids a criminal record for a food fight, you’ll be doing it to every kid in school. It’s a knee-jerk reaction and it’s based on the fact that people try to control children, not understand them.

My personal view is that age is irrelevant; I get on well with people of many ages and what’s important to me is mutual respect. If someone is interested in talking to me, sharing their thoughts, that’s all I’ve ever needed. It’s something people underestimate about children as well, that sometimes they just want to be engaged and have a say in things. I think Katherine Hepburn said it best: “I have no romantic feelings about age. Either you are interesting at any age or you are not.” Isn’t that so true? You either find someone interesting or you don’t; in the end, that’s all the matters, not age or anything else.

So maybe I should be flattered when someone stares at me. They obviously find me interesting in some way… even if it does feel like a scientist dissecting a rat! Maybe next time I’ll say something. Who knows, perhaps I’ll find someone to talk to, or at least will be able to write in peace… on the other hand, I’ll be 30 before I know it. Maybe then they’ll leave me alone and all I’ll have to worry about is baldness. 🙂

Would you want to know?

Here’s a question for you. Imagine you’ve spent years trying to find the love of your life; you’ve dated and fallen in and out of love, but never found that special someone. Then finally you meet someone and you just click; it’s not something you can explain, you just feel an immediate attraction and it’s like you’ve known them all of your life. Soon you know it’s love and you can’t imagine being apart. You get married and start planning to spend the rest of your lives together… and then you discover that you are brother and sister.

That’s the story which has been coming out of Britain over the last few days. It’s so sad and what makes it even sadder is that they’re twins, which is why their connection was so strong. Their birth was normal (not in-vitro) and they were adopted by separate parents and never told that they had a twin. It wasn’t until after they were married that they discovered the truth. Now their marriage has been annulled and it’s sparked debate over whether children should have more access to the identity of their birth parents.

Supposedly this is very rare and you’d hope it is given all of the circumstances that would have to occur, but here’s my question. Imagine you’re in their position, a day before you’re about to hear the truth… would you want to know? If someone offered you the chance to know the truth but you knew it would destroy everything, would you still want to know?

I’ve been wondering about this since I heard the story, and I would. I believe it’s always better to know the truth, even if it’s incredibly painful. But I’ve read a few blogs which haven’t been as sure and honestly I can understand that too. It’s an incestuous relationship and if you knew you’d be repulsed, but for several years they (and you’d hope their families) thought they were a normal couple. It certainly would have been “easier” for them to go on in ignorance, if not “right”.

They must be living in their own kind of hell. To have formed that connection, then suddenly have it broken without the possibility of it being restored… I find that almost unimaginable. Not to mention it’d be impossible to see each other as brother and sister, so they’d actually be losing two relationships… the only good thing is that they didn’t have children. There was a case in Germany where a man served a two-year prison sentence after fathering four children with his sister; they’d been separated at birth.

It’s made me wonder about something else as well, though. Here I’d rather know, but what if I could find out the day I was going to die – is that something I’d want to know? Honestly, I’m not sure… a large part of me says yes; if I knew, I’d have time to say goodbye, time to live my life. But I think as well that I’d be more afraid of death if I knew; I’d know what I was losing, feel time slipping by… I’d rather value each day as it comes and I can only do that by not knowing… just as I’d rather not know if I’m supposed to meet someone, so I can value the relationships on the way.

If there’s one thing I want to take away from this story, it’s that. It’s so easy to take everything we have for granted; our homes, relationships, health… I’d hope something like this wouldn’t happen, but still, one day we might find it all gone. Better to cherish what we have now than have regrets later.

What about you? What would you do? Is there anything you’d rather not know? I’d be interested to find out. 😉