I am not ordinarily busied by the “50 Plus” page of my local newspaper, in which I find word that Paul McCartney was lately spotted at a bar in the south of France drinking alone, after his second marriage fell to pieces. There are ads for dementia care, funeral homes, bridge clubs. The page will not concern me personally until 2035, and even then I hope to be resolved never to retire. I only aspire to expire at some point, unless the Second Coming transpires in the meantime. And if I expire, I will not do it in a trendy retirement facility if at all I can avoid that monstrosity.
It is noteworthy of the present 50-plus crowd that their demographics are increasingly of the baby boomer variety. It is they who once swore to basking forever in the fountain of youth. Retirement age is upon them as word comes down the line that the first of their generation has reached age 60. Bill Clinton, of all people, is 60 next month.
And yet, retirement age does not really mean old age for the Clinton wing of the boomers. Yes, Bill had the quadruple bypass two years ago, but that was a negligible footnote rather than a sign. Yes, Hillary will be too old to run for the White House in 2016 if someone else beats her there in 2008. But like dying, those are things rather not to think on.
Consequently, there is a strange mixture to be found upon the 50 Plus page. Behind the Alzheimer home ad that targets the World War II generation awaits the hair removal ad for the boomers. The number of Botox injections between 1996 and 2001 rose 2,345 percent to 1.6 million injections. John Kerry had his brow pumped with Botox before he lost the 2004 election. Hundreds of thousands this year will increase their breast sizes, reduce their stomach sizes and undergo facelifts.
It is as if the plastic surgeons and anti-wrinkle creamers and weight losers had contracted out to Milton’s Satan for an advertiser, who in a previous era orated before our ancestors, “Do not believe these rigid threats of death. Ye shall not die; How should ye?”
Boomers will welcome retirement, of course, most of them. Most boomers will join in the longest and wildest retirement party in the history of mankind, complete with the best medicine, the tastiest gourmet food, the most lavish vacations, the grandest entertainment, the highest class retirement resorts. A few who’ve long appreciated the cultural weight of their employments, such as liberal professors and liberal journalists and liberal government bureaucrats, will leave their fields reluctantly, if possible waiting until late hours of life, as the comparatively conservative rising generation threatens reversals.
There may be a few mannered after Hunter S. Thompson who blow their brains out in despair when faced with a bit of the human condition. But generally there is a delusion in place that will prolong the engagement of the Bills and Hillarys in their egotistical marches down to the natural grave.
According to Steve Gillon, author of “Boomer Nation: The Largest and Richest Generation Ever and How it Changed America,” boomers tend to think themselves a decade younger than they truly are. “I think the hardest psychological adjustment will be accommodating the aging process, which is something that’s never done very well,” Gillon told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Like the Clintons and the Bushes, and the Quayles and Gores too, Tonya Harvey of Milwaukee is about to turn threescore. Not only is she entering her 60s, she is nostalgic for the ’60s.
“Tune in, turn on, drop out. Free love. Everything was free. No responsibility. We all still have that kind of feeling, that free spirit,” Ms. Harvey told the Milwaukee newspaper. “We’re talking about the Beatles and ‘Love Child’ and round, purple glasses. And we wear the badge proudly. I’m an old hippie.”
Asked by the interviewer how a hippie ages, she replied, “Hey, we never do. We just progress.”
Could it not be that age is a venerable thing if trained for wisdom, and progress an illusion? But if untutored dying is progress defined, here again echoes Milton, this time Eve in her deadly speech to Adam, “I with thee have fixed my lot. Certain to undergo like doom: if death consort with thee, death is to me as life.”
“Life” to Ms. Harvey and many of her peers is a living, progressing thing. It is not, as Augustine thought, a process of dying.
We have lost the consciousness of dying, which is the consciousness that we must have before the consciousness of living. What the boomers are left with is not really a consciousness at all, but a feeling. And as the baby boomers taught younger generations, if it feels good, do it.
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