As boomers enter their twilight years and ask their bodies to defy gravity, I can’t help but wince at some of the stuff coming out of AARP. I’m a boomer myself and get direct mail invites from AARP weekly. Or so it seems. On occasion I see something from AARP on the web and this video caught my attention:
Basically, it’s another take on that Like a Girl video in which people’s prejudices are exposed for what they are — that being stupid or insensitive or cruel and the like. But what struck me about this video from AARP was its underlying message — supposedly that what a Millennial thinks is old, isn’t old after all — actually presents a truly unkind image of what it is to be old.
Yes, we keep on hearing how the 60 is the new 40 and 80 is the new 60 and and other nonsense. Jane Fonda still looks great with the right lighting, make-up, and professional stylist on hand. And who knows how many surgical interventions. And yes there’s some 90-year-old guy out there who can do 100 push-ups every day. But come on, Jane Fonda is old. That 90-year-old guy, while pretty remarkable, is still old. They’re both headed where we all are headed — the twilight of life where humans, being what they are, slow down. And short of being hit by a bus or carried off by a terminal disease before reaching your allotted biblical three score and ten, we all get old. Our muscles will shrink. Our skin will purse. Our memories will dim. Our pace will slow. That’s not to say we shouldn’t stay active and exercise and eat right and use it or lose it and all those other things we do to forestall the inevitable. But you can’t lifestyle your way out of getting old. It’s gonna happen.
The other thing that struck me about this video was the way it called out Millennials for being so out of touch with what “old” really means: active, vital, etc., which for many boomers is true. And for many, it’s not. And that Millennials would think this way should come as no surprise: boomers have worshipped youth for so long and shaped our culture’s attitude towards being old that of course Millennials would think someone who’s 50 walks across the street as if he were 90 (unless it’s that guy doing all those push-ups). Who after all invented the expression “trust no one over 30” but the boomers? The context for the expression was political — but dividing line was between youth and age.
Youth has invariably always found the old, how shall I say, a bit slow? Hurrying to supplant one’s elders was happening long before Regan and Goneril were looking for ways to put King Lear out to pasture. So it’s a bit unfair, I think, to be chiding Millennials for being what they are: young — and for having impressions of age fostered in large part by boomers themselves.
For me though, the truly sad thing about the AARP video is how unkind it is to the old — to our aging parents, aging friends, and let’s face it, our soon to be aging selves — those among us who do walk slowly, who seem to take forever to order off the menu, who have a hard time hearing the dialogue during a movie, who don’t text, and who — because we can’t bear it seems to see our future selves — we often shunt into homes or at least get them out of the way so we can hurry on with our incredibly important lives.
It wasn’t long ago that the old lived among us — not in a home or a retirement community or a gated enclave free of children yelling and playing. We would be better off as a people if we lived out our lives amongst each other, accepting the vibrancy of youth and the pace of growing old with equal aplomb. Perhaps if we did, we might not be in such a big hurry to squeeze funding from Social Security, raid pension plans to shore up earnings, and belittle the fate that befalls us all.