Ronni in New York City
Social Security – Part 13: The Problem with Raising Retirement Age

The Youth of Age

There was a famous slogan, during the 1960’s anti-Vietnam War/hippie/yippie era, a mantra of the youthful political left: “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” It was a catchy line, meant to warn of the fuddyduddyness, if not duplicity, of the older generations then in charge of the world.

A corollary popular in private conversation was, “I’m not ever going to grow up,” always said with self-satisfied pride and wide-eyed anticipation of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll into an infinite future.

Of course, it didn’t turn out that way. The responsibilities of marriage, family, careers and mortgages got in the way and most of those 20- and 30-something flower children and political activists turned out to be a whole lot like the older folks they so underrated.

Nowadays, many of those kids – grown up into their 50s and 60s and older - are still proclaiming their youthfulness. “I’m 70 years young,” they say. Or, “I’m in better shape than when I was 25.” Reading profiles at online dating services for older people is a hoot. Without fail, men and women alike insist they look younger than they are. “I’m 62,” they write (having undoubtedly shaved a few years to arrive at that number), “but don’t look my age.” The accompanying photos leave one to question the state of their vision.

The yearning underlying those statements, to remain young or at least to appear to be younger, is understandable in a culture awash in youth worship and ageism, but it makes those people look foolish, and I feel the same kind of embarrassment for them that a balding man’s comb-over provokes. One of the things Hugh Downs said in this regard, in his TGB Interview, struck me as irrefutably right and so:

“I have really come to embrace the idea that it is beautiful that young people get older and old people get older. This is the wheel of life and if you get hung up on the idea of staying young, you are doomed to disappointment.”

In his column this week, Donald M. Murray, after lovingly lamenting the rigid propriety by which his father lived, identified the kind of youth in age we should all aspire to:

“I have the freedom to construct still another new life in my 80s. I can study modern art and attempt it myself, read what I want, listen to new music - jazz and classical - until I find the music in the unfamiliar.

“I have the freedom to attempt what I want to and the freedom to fail, the great gift of old age. We know that failure is not the end but the beginning.

“I sit at my drawing table to discover what my failures will reveal, where the uninstructed line will lead me, a boy at 80 enjoying the childhood my father never had.”

- Boston Globe, 22 February 2005

We were wrong in the ‘60s about people over 30. And we are still wrong about them. It is up to us, the older generations, to set it right by refusing the false and foolish cultural imperative to deny our age and to put our collective experience and wisdom to the best use possible.

Comments

Ronni,
It is also the nature of things - youth looking at older folks as "fuddy duddy" and slow. They are so full of energy, passion, and impatience! On the other hand our culture definitely teaches an abhorrence of old age. There are other cultures that understand the importance of elder wisdom,and have great reverance for the aged.

I think we have a responsibility to help all people respect and revere all people no matter what their age, color, sexual orientation or creed. It is so hard when we are bombarded by a society that is determined to have us fit into one type of mold, so dominantly.

I think as I become older I still have energy and passion. Am just becoming a lot more patient and compassionate than when I was young. I wonder, does that make me a "fuddy duddy?" Hurrah!

Historically, people highly valued those things that, or people who, were rare. Within the last century, we find that older people are becoming increasingly less rare.

The Feminists had it right when they started promoting the wearing of the title "Crone" as a badge of honor instead of an pejorative.

I totally agree. I have no fears about growing older and find the compensations immensely valuable. I think freedom from ambition and the ability to just take things as they come are the most rewarding aspects.

Tom's spot-on here. And so is Hugh Downs with his citing of an increased ability to appreciate life
that he finds in growing older. Let's hope we all can do the same.

Dear Ronni,

As always, this post is right on target and so worth reading - I have grown addicted to your essays...a good addiction.

Always,
Melinda

Heh. I'm in my mid forties, and my son called me a professional slacker the other day. I was most pleased.

The ambition of the twenties is wonderful, but I feel grateful I've discovered relatively early the joys of a lack of ambition!

About old age. I had my first kid at 38. He will be 16 in 4 months. My second arrived in my life when I was 42. They both love to gang up on my husband an I and pellet us with constant reminders of how "old" we are. This, despite the fact that I'm the one who got my older one into guitar playing by playing acoustic and electric rock and roll at 53. I can't help but think of Dylan's "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now." lyrics. Yes, I agree that mortgages and all of life's "responsibilities" avalanched a certain reality on those of us who once had a vision to change the world. and I agree that the media along with botox and every kind of plastic surgery are united in fighting the natural course of physical aging in most unnatural, dangerous and ridiculous ways. I tell my kids about how I felt about people over 30 when I was growing up in the 1960s. That statement alone ages me further in front of their eyes. I realized there is no point in telling them how they're going to turn around one too many unintentional times and loose count and dizzily realize,they too are suddenly "old." I do disagree that we turned out a whole lot like the generation of parents we criticized. Yes, we played the mortgage, marriage games but with a different attitude from those of our parents. I think all of us did it grudgingly. I know I've smirked at each social braces that restrains. Yes, many of us gave in to social pressures and obligations, however the ride into age has not been the same as it was for our parents. Our perspective as counterculture flower children did color our perseptions somewhat. We did change the world in some positive and some negative ways. Attitude-wise and consciousness-wise, we are very different from the generation we rebelled against. I refuse to accept that we merged right in with those who were over 30 way back when. If we had, then the world would be the same as it wasthe first time the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. It was a pretty colorless world. The idealism our generation exploded with did not exist in our parents or grandparents or any generation prior to ours. It has also not existed in any generation since. (though I have hope for my kids) This makes those of us who grew up in the 1960s very unique. For most, age arrives without a fight and with constrained wisdom of the established values they blindly uphold. The fact of our questioning those values and visualizing alternatives whether or or not they were implemented makes those of us who were sincere about it, ageless. Regardless of the wrinkles, slower walks,arhtritis and social security checks...

Ronni,

There's a new book coming out by ritual artist Donna Henes that says the old model of "Maiden, Mother, Crone" is insufficient. There's a whole stage missing! It's "Maiden, Mother, QUEEN, Crone." Her new book is all about being the Queen!!

Ronni, I work on the Internet on a dating site for women. It turns out it is mostly elder women who come for advice, information and counseling to best present themselves on the dating sites. I love it that our passion and undying urge to partner stays with us. I love it that we are sexy even as we are able to have humor about our bodily changes. I love it that we have the wisdom to know ourselves and to keep improving how we live and how we love…

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)