“Pensioner gets rescued from sea after attempting to swim to cruise ship to find husband” – Headline for March 28.
Curiously, what struck me about this headline was not how odd it was that a 60+ woman actually tried jumped in the Atlantic to swim back to her departing cruise ship, but the use of the word “Pensioner”. What is a pensioner? How old are you when you are a pensioner? Why would the Western Daily Press choose this word? What reaction where they trying to get? I think they were trying to suggest that this woman was old – she was a pensioner – someone clearly retired and “old”.
Yet look beyond that label. What exactly is a pensioner? According to Mirriam-Webster, a pensioner is ” a person who receives or lives on a pension; especially : a person who receives a government pension”. Simple, right. But the connotation with the word is much more complex. When I was under 55, I tended to think of pensioners as older people living on fixed incomes, possibly quite frail and old. They sometimes needed tax breaks to cover the increased medical costs and ever-rising living expenses. They quite giving Christmas and birthday presents to everyone because they were now living on a pension. The label stuck when I looked at the grey haired, arthritic people in frequenting churches, old folks homes, and funerals. Sometimes they lived alone because their spouse had died, and their children have grown and left the nest. They belonged to my parents’ and grandparents’ generation – not mine.
But wait – I am now a pensioner. Is that how younger people see me? I am living on a fixed income – one that certainly does not meet my monthly living needs. Am I also now frail and useless? Most of the time I don’t feel that way. Sure, I have minor aches and pains. I sometimes stumble slightly while my limbs un-cement themselves after sitting for a long time. But I don’t think I stumble my way around with a cane. My child has grown up and left the coop. Most of my friends are now grandparents. So I suppose I am part of the pensioner generation.
I’m sure the news service wanted to suggest the woman was frail and feeble-minded. But how frail was she if she was able to survive 4 hours swimming in the Atlantic Ocean? And how “poor” was she if she could afford a cruise? Is she your typical old-generation pensioner? I think not!
I suggest we need a new connotation for pensioner. Those of us in the new pensioner group do not fit the definitions we gave to our parents. I have met so many strong, vibrant, active and healthy 55+ers that I would never even think of the word “pensioner”. So what are we? I don’t have the right word yet. But I do know that we need to ensure that the age-challenged (young ones) never again look at us as weak, feeble, or useless simply because we are no longer working full time – and have chosen to subsist primarily on the pensions we worked so hard to earn.
Pensioners of the world unite! We have nothing to lose but our labels…