BUCKFIELD — As a journalist, I’ve written about everything from murder to ice hockey, but today I’m thinking about a story I couldn’t write. In the late 1970s, I was working at The Miami Herald and wanted to learn more about the people I saw in far too many neighborhoods, many of them elderly, who were clearly struggling to survive.

I interviewed a very articulate woman who was afraid, amazed and also very bitter when she contrasted her circumstances with the affluent lifestyle of her earlier years. But before I could write her story, she came to find me. When she saw me on the sidewalk, she grabbed me so fiercely that her nails cut into both my arms. Falling to her knees on the pavement, she begged me not to write about her, saying she couldn’t bear for anyone, especially her former friends, to know what her life had become.

I couldn’t help thinking about her when I read the recent Press Herald article headlined “Many Mainers enter golden years financially insecure” and a commentary by Kevin Simowitz, “Maine should broaden its thinking when it comes to caring for seniors.”

I am a “senior” myself now, still working, in decent financial shape, but feeling that the words “Golden Years” should not be spoken, much less appear in the headline of a story about the problems so many people face as they age.

I’m also wondering how effectively those of us in what was once called the “Me Generation” are fighting back. That 1970s label was intended to mean that we didn’t think of anyone but ourselves, but it wasn’t true. Many in our generation worked hard to oppose war, injustice and inequality in all its many forms.

Yet our generation, which prided itself on speaking out, is now being silenced by financial insecurity, illness, loneliness and the same fear of letting others seeing our vulnerabilities that I encountered four decades ago in Miami.

I understand much better how that frightened woman felt since my husband died – 32 years together, and he was gone in a matter of minutes – and my father lost his memories to dementia. I’ve been treated for breast cancer and wondered if I’d ever pay off the medical bills. I’ve also started paying attention to news stories about age discrimination.

So I don’t blame her at all. It was her story to tell or not to tell. I just think those of us who are able to help should start using all the tools available to assist our aging neighbors, our friends and ourselves.

We’ve heard for years that Maine has the nation’s oldest population. The Press Herald reported last fall that in the past seven years “the estimated number of people age 65 or over grew by more than 55,000, to 266,214 – almost 20 percent of the state’s entire population.”

To me, that’s both a great opportunity and a call to action. As PBS commentator Mark Shields, who just celebrated his 82nd birthday, said, “There is always strength in numbers. The more individuals or organizations that you can rally to your cause, the better.”

I’m starting with the belief that age discrimination must be fought just as hard as racial, ethnic and gender discrimination. I’m sure we should listen carefully to the people who will actually be affected by policies, including “senior citizens.” I think we should ask what they need most and help them get it, whether that takes legislation, street marches, fundraising, cooking meals, giving ride or helping in gardens.

But how do we start? How do I start? My father-in-law always said, “Don’t discover what someone’s discovered before you,” so I’m writing today in hopes of making contact with those who have a better idea of what should be done and how to go about it.

In the meantime, I’ll try to find out what’s happening or not happening for the older people in my rural town. I’ve also looked on the internet for Maine organizations that advocate for older people and emailed a few.

I look forward to hearing from anyone with insights, ideas or opinions at [email protected].


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