"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Youth Springs Eternal–For A While Anyway

A longtime arts reporter for a local Washington, DC television station recently retired.  “There is something weird about a 70-year old man reviewing Teletubbies”, he said.  His time had come.  He knew when to hang ‘em up and move aside for the younger generation.  Not everyone feels like him.  The tales of octogenarians toppling over into their coffee in The Emeritus Room are legion.  “He wanted to die in his traces”, said a younger colleague of a former executive who came into the office every day until a janitor found him dead in the toilet, his pants around his ankles.

One of the advantages of getting older is that figuring things out is a lot simpler than it was decades ago. We seniors have seen the predation of ISIS before, the shilly-shallying of thoughtful but weak leaders, anti-Semitism, doomsday Chicken Littles, bad marriages, straying husbands, frustrated wives, torture, bad jokes, and twisted sex.  Its not that the particular expression of these familiar scenarios are boring– Shakespeare loved to write about the most wicked examples of greed, ambition, and venality – but that somehow human nature always and inevitably shows its hand in every shuffle of the cards.
Old age brings its creaks, groans, and cataracts; but anyone who sees the light fading at the end of the tunnel can comfortable flip through the Sunday Times in minutes and turn to more serious reading.  It feels more productive to ponder the long and agonizing dying of Ivan Ilyich and his aha! moment as death finally approaches; or Andrei Bolkonsky’s near death epiphany on the field of Austerlitz; or Levin’s wondering at the cruel irony of fifty years of intelligence, insight, wit, passion, and creativity followed by an eternity in the cold, wet clay of the graveyard.

The corporate ex-Vice Presidents who dodder into the office every day and write memos on marketing and accounting that no one reads are at least trying their level best to validate what seem to be – in view of the dark eternity that faces them –  long lives of little meaning and even less joy.
Those who try to turn the clock back, go to noisy downtown bars frequented by glittery young things half their age, hang out with the young minions at the office, suit up in Italian-logoed Lycra for 60-milers at the back of the peloton; and ski the double-blacks at Aspen even though brittle bones rattle, are the ones who will die clueless. “What?”, they say as they hurtle to certain death over the precipice their bad eyes didn’t see.   “This wasn’t supposed to happen”. 

I have a lot more sympathy for the alte kocker who worries that his life has been meaningless, tallying numbers and measuring performance for years; who wonders what it all means, but continues defiantly adding things up until the end.
Writing in the New York Times Michele Willens reflects on Baby Boomer aging.  While there are many older people who search out the company of those many years younger, many more dread the experience:
“I see so many who are trying to adjust their lives to this new phase, which for some reason none of us really pictured ourselves going through”, says Anna Fels, a psychiatrist in New York. .
Why didn’t we? We knew that eventually more people around us would be younger rather than older. But it still rankles. The image of a room filled with younger people is the perfect symbol.
“It’s an important marker for this generation because it reminds them that they are now the ones closest to obsolescence, the ones the world can do without.”

The young man in an old man’s body is caught in a bind.  If he goes to youthful places, he is reminded of his irrelevance, sees at a glance that his best days are behind him, and has no more interest for the 30-somethings than a pile of old wood.   If he avoids them and chooses ballrooms, white linen-and-silver, and quiet inns by the Rappahannock, he is even more terrified.  The hard-of-hearing, creaky, white-haired guests look just like him, and it is a scary sight.

Others, like the writer’s friend Robin, feels quite differently.
She at 67 frequents SoulCycle, eats at noisy restaurants and avoids Wednesday matinees. “I am not trying to deny aging,” she insists, “but my husband and I choose not to be surrounded by it.” Instead of making her feel insecure, being the oldest in the room keeps her feeling vital.
In other words, her creaky bones and white hair are campaign ribbons. She is still standing after long years in the trenches.
However, she might also be like a close friend of mine who worked at a firm whose employees, not surprisingly, were many decades his junior.  He was near retirement so these ambitious youngsters posed no threat to his career.  More than anything, he told me, he loved being in an office full of youthful energy, beauty, and idealism.  “It’s like being with my grandchildren”, he said.
I still go to the gym every day – aerobics, core, abs, lats, and quads – but wonder why I am doing it.  Whatever is going to kill me has already begun its insidious assault.  My good heart, lungs, and arteries don’t need any more toning and tuning.  Vanity, I conclude.  Men never give up skirt-chasing no matter how old.  The ultimate irony – a cruel joke actually – is that men have powerful sexual urges until they can’t remember what sex is; and even then, in the dim, foggy evening of Alzheimer’s, something in us twinges when a beautiful woman walks by.
The author has a good attitude, apparently happy with or at least resigned to her advancing age.
I — as of this moment a fit 65 — do my lifting and stretching at the 92nd Street Y, where they still lament that Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis broke up. This is one of the last places I am considered a kid. My 90-year-old aunt accuses me of showing up at her assisted living facility so often because I am far and away the youngest person on the premises.
Now there’s a thought.  When the likelihood of a chance encounter with a 30-something fades, head for the old folks’ home and feel good about being 70.
I have the least sympathy for those older Americans who feel it is their patriotic duty to serve the Republic, no matter what their age.
In her memoir, Hillary Rodham Clinton writes about being the toughest in the rooms where war and peace were discussed. Still, she is already seeing that her health, fatigue-factor, and even becoming a grandmother may yet speak unspoken volumes. It won’t be much fun being the oldest in the race.
It is time for Hilary to step aside for someone a lot younger.  We older citizens know that political wisdom and years of experience ain’t worth a hill of beans.  No matter how many world leaders Hilary or anyone her age has met; no matter how many conflicts mediated, wars avoided or begun, treaties signed or abrogated, insight has been buried under decades of history.  At the very least, young people can look with a fresh outlook unsullied by reality.  Yes, a lot can be said for the outrageous, ‘impossible’ solution; and will not be Hilary who will provide it.

Perhaps the greatest irony of all is to be a member of a huge aging cohort in a culture which not only values but celebrates youth.  It hasn’t yet got to Granny-dumping and Ovens for the Elderly; but we are a drag, sucking billions in Medicare, Social Security, and public welfare.  We slow up subway farecard gates, ride on the left side of escalators, weave on sidewalks, drive 50 on a 70 mph freeway.  We repeat stories, get things wrong, live in the past, and pay with pennies. 
As I mentioned above, the good thing about getting old is knowing everything.  The bad thing is having to move out of the way.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you describe all this out for all of us. Really a great article!


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