One evening I was taking a train back from Westport to New York City. On that railroad, after a certain hour, you buy your ticket on the train…

So I got on the train, and before that I had been out in the autumn leaves with a wonderful friend, I was really happy, and the conductor came down the aisle, and he said, “Tickets please.” I said, “I’m sorry I’ll have to buy my ticket from you.” He asked me what kind of ticket I wanted and I hadn’t realized I had a choice. I could get a regular or a senior citizen ticket, so I said, “Senior Citizen?” and it was the same way as when I was 18 years old, and I could drink legally in New York, I went in and ordered a “beer?” and the bartender would hear the tone of my voice, and I ask for my identification. So I asked him how much the tickets were, and he tells me the senior citizen is $4.50 and the regular is $7.00. I was pleased, and then as he went away, I started to realize what I had put on with the idea of ‘senior citizen.’ It wasn’t just an economic category. I mean, it was technically, but psychologically, it wasn’t.

Psychologically, it had to do with a change in my status within the society, and as I started to feel the nature of the mantle I was on, the mantle of being a senior citizen, I began considering all of my models of senior citizens. Like if you look at television, look at all the people of age and see how they are characterized in all the stories; they’re either foolish, irrelevant, or sort of bumbly-wise. I was absolutely overwhelmed with the mythical conspiracy we are all a part of that defines aging. As I become more aware of the way in which the mythical fabric of the culture is defining who I am, like in the determinant of age, I realize that as I become more aware of it, it starts to have less power over me. Just that awareness changes things.

As aging, older people get warehoused, sometimes in middle class elder communities they are pleased that no children are allowed. Can you imagine? It’s a hell realm. “I don’t want children around, they make too much noise”… so does life. I mean, when I go into India, and in most cultures I go into, you see the interesting workings of the extended family; how it all works, how there are built in baby-sitters, and how the grief is spread around, people have some place to fall, and you start to realize the cost at which we have cultivated personal, individual freedom over the collective familial structure.

-Ram Dass