By Chic Hollis – Philosophical Musings
As youngsters being denied the privileges of grown-ups, most of us were impatient to mature, and become recognized as “adults.” We yearned for the illusive freedom, the ultimate status, and the formal acknowledgment by society that we were equal to those not-so-wise elders who stood between us and a bottle of beer, a cigarette, and staying out all night.
Were we ever going to celebrate our 21st birthday? That took more than half a life time, it seemed. From that birthday until retirement, our lives sped by at twice the velocity. All of a sudden, without realizing it, we were “old.”
First, as far as the younger generation was concerned, we became old at thirty with a couple of kids, a mortgage, a boss far worse than our parents (which we would never admit to them)! Then, at forty with a better house, a car or two, college expenses looming, and maybe a serious promotion around the corner – we felt a little older. Finally, at fifty hovering near the pinnacle of my career, with almost all the kids grown up, the house beginning to empty, and the gray hairs showing up – I retired. Mistake? No, just an introduction to the AARP life that I rejected after a couple of years of wandering.
Sooner or later all of us in the “Silent Generation” had to face the reality that we were beginning to age. The milestone of each decade that passed brought new evidence, besides the humorous birthday cards, that we were never going to be able to do certain things as well again.
But at fifty, we had just reached middle age. We could still do many things to make us look younger. We could now afford sleek sports cars, fancy motorcycles or boats, adventuresome vacations, ski week-ends at the posh resorts, golf club memberships, etc. We could dress as well as anyone, and none of us would laugh at the evidence that we were trying to hang on to our youth. We might have to watch what we ate, enroll in a health club or SPA, and get more sleep, but who noticed those changes in our life styles? Our spouses and close friends said nothing. You are only as old as you think you are, right?
When we pass sixty, the truth begins to dawn on us, if we are still employed. We start losing our teeth, our eyesight has already been corrected for vision impairment, and some of us are not hearing as well as we used to. Or is it that others aren’t speaking as loud as they could?
We can’t run as fast, jump as high, unscrew tight jar tops as before, and bend over like we remember. Then too, we can’t straighten up easily, lift anything very heavy, and hit the golf ball as far. We smile somewhat embarrassed, but the obsequious looks of the younger people around us make us feel OK.
We don’t “have it” any longer. We’re already passed our prime and ready for retirement. Some of us are tolerated because there are a few things we remember about the past that are important, a few things we can do to handle obsolete technology, and a few bucks we have saved that might be useful to the more needy younger generation.
There still are a few voluntary jobs that “older” folks can handle for members of the family and the community without asking for any remuneration – like looking after grandchildren, fixing up and cleaning up the neighborhood, and filling in at hospitals and civic events for those who have more important things to do. There is a sense of usefulness to these secondary jobs.
If we take early retirement, we still have a lot of energy and maybe some uncommitted dollars. Now is the time for seeing all those places we dreamed about and didn’t have time to visit. A gradual farewell to the active life and the joy of tying up loose ends. Maybe a trust to consider, a will to write, and a portfolio to conserve.
The younger birds have flown the coup, except for those who return to take advantage of the modern lifestyle of living at home without paying rent so that credit card debt can be extinguished. Time to downsize, perhaps. Find that tranquil homestead in some exotic part of the world that always beckoned you, where you can indulge your appetite for your favorite pastime. Not too far from your HMO, though, and dentist. Somewhere that friends can visit you and enjoy themselves discussing “old” times and the world as it seemed to be years ago.
What “ain’t easy” to do for us senior citizens is to accept that despite the genial comments about us living until 100, said in mock sincerity, we are in the way of “progress.” We are using up valuable non-replenishable natural resources like gasoline for cars and oil for heating, over-consuming limited nutrients that starving people in other lands need desperately, and driving up the cost of housing.
Some of us are living so long that the Social Security Administration may be bankrupt in less than 30 years. Those of us who are working past 55 are filling job opportunities for younger, unemployed workers. Those of us who are infirm are taking up space in hospitals and clinics, and those of us who admit it, are exploiting the discounts offered to senior citizens. About the only thing we older, longer-lived citizens do that is acceptable to the younger members of our society is to pay our taxes and life insurance premiums.
There is no true respect granted us like what the older members of an “oriental” family used to receive. There is no wisdom we have that is desired. Our experiences mean little to the next generation. So, the pay back is complete. We are receiving exactly what we gave our parents. The circle is redrawing itself.
Sophistication has brought new problems, new issues, and new “wars” on drugs, on terrorism, and on AIDS. Fortunately, we older members of our dear country don’t have to solve these problems, handle these issues, and fight these wars.
Our efforts will be directed towards staying alive to witness another year, finding the money to cover our future expenses, and avoiding calamities, catastrophes, and catalepsy. We can’t expect any revolutionary new technology in our lifetime to reverse this natural process. Nor can friends assume that many of us old fogies will eagerly decide to embrace the sweet-sounding afterlife promised to those who lived “exemplary” lives. We will fight that eventuality with all our feeble strength and use as much of our children’s inheritance as necessary to avoid leaving on the early train to those Elysian Fields.
We can tell you, but you won’t believe us, “It ain’t easy being…” the next to go.