The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Tuesday, April 20, 2004  

Old Enough For Around Here

Two recent events, completely isolated, have me wondering whether, despite the increasing longevity of Americans, the age of 40, my age, is now generally accepted as “middle age.”

Situation No. 1: A few months ago I went to Mass on a Sunday evening, and not at my parish church. Before the service began a kindly woman, one I recognized as a nun though she was not wearing a habit, put her hand on my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “You know, this is a special mass we hold monthly for young adults in Philadelphia.”

In response, I simply nodded and smiled.

But the more I thought about her comment, the more I wondered.

Was she telling me this because, not recognizing me, she knew it was my first appearance at this particular Mass, and therefore she was extending me a warm welcome and encouraging me to return in the future?

Or was she telling me this because, well, she thought I was too old to be there at all, and thus was discouraging me from showing up again?

I still don’t know.

Situation No. 2: As regular readers know, not long ago I moved to the Society Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia.

One of the very first things I noticed after settling in is how often, compared with my old Washington West neighborhood, possibly better described as Washington West West, people on the sidewalk (oops, excuse me, this is Philadelphia, I meant not to say “the sidewalk,” but “the pavement”) would offer an unprompted greeting such as “Good morning,” “Hello,” “Good afternoon,” or “Good evening.”

That rarely happened in Washington West West, except when it came from those incredibly and suspiciously friendly guys on Spruce between 10th and Broad, but that’s another story entirely.

I have enjoyed the neighborly greetings in Society Hill. I still do. But now that I’ve been here some six weeks, I’ve noticed that the cheerful good wishes from my neighbors come almost solely from those who would be described, under any reasonable standard, as middle-aged people or as senior citizens.

Younger people, twenty- and thirty-somethings, particularly women, do not say “Good morning,” “Hello,” “Good afternoon,” or “Good evening.” At least to me they don’t.

At first I thought it was fear. I mean, a handsome guy like me can be very intimidating to a younger person, female or male.

But then I thought, wait, they’re not saying “Good morning,” “Hello,” “Good afternoon,” or “Good evening,” at least not to me, not because they’re afraid of me, nor in awe of my good looks, but because I’m old. Or if not old, because, at 40, I’m now middle-aged.

And so maybe that’s why Society Hill-area residents who are middle-aged or older greet me regularly: It’s because I’m one of them now.

I need to think about this.

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