Distilling our needs, expectations as we age

by Steve Harrison

I think most of us fear being irrelevant. We spend our early years building a life, a career, a circle of people who care about us, a philosophy we hope to follow until our time is up. We want people to like us. Sure. We want our friends to respect us. And we don’t really think what we create will ever end.

We build families and other connections to ward off the alienation and isolation that visits many people during their lives. Aging can invite it in. Or illness. It’s frightening, really.

Those of us who have traded on looks, career successes, many zeroes in our bank balance, or our physical prowess are surprised that life has a way of diluting the meaning of these assets.

Luckily, it doesn’t happen to everyone. Madonna still packs an arena. Biden and Trump can still fill an auditorium, collect money, and receive votes. Lucky and sensitive moms and dads have worked at relationships with their children so that they will later come home to visit, ask their parents’ advice, share their successes and their fears.

Still, most of us have moments of fear, maybe in the middle of the night, worrying that our bonds are weakening, our connections not what they used to be.

I’m convinced that one of the reasons so many people have found Trump enigmatic — whether repulsive or the hoped for savior — is he provides us with an escape, a diversion from what really troubles us: our own withering; our own irrelevance.

Trump rails and pontificates. He gets angry. Like King Lear, he provides hope for some. He may not see things clearly or explain things using college trained logic, but we like that he can still put on a riveting show. Even Biden, who only a few years older than Trump, is more often than not able to give hopeful, if not rallying speeches. Though he might trip going up stairs, he is still the effective leader of the free world. We are riveted by both, we baby boomers facing our mortality; both give us hope that we can remain relevant, loved, appearing important even in our declining years.

I’ve written before about how baby boomers have lived in the spotlight, the world their stage, every aspect of their lives written about, portrayed in film and TV shows, making our existence a model for others, studied by doctors, professors, sociologists. It’s a lot to live up to, especially as we approach our seventh and eighth decades. It takes work to stay in the game; and though some would argue that age is just a number, at some point our mental and physical resilience ebbs. Afternoon naps required. Stairs a hazard. Fun nights out over by 8.

It does no good to rail. Certainly, we can fight against aging, take supplements, continue walking, live a hopeful, kind life. John, the husband, says that as we age, we become a distillation of all that we have been — our good and bad attributes. Just as our ears dangle a little longer and our noses seems to be a bit bigger, our other personality traits grow. What a relief it is to turn on the TV and be whisked away by grotesque behavior. It is so much easier to be distracted that way than driving to Yosemite or even Laguna to be filled with nature’s wonder or inviting friends over for a shared home cooked meal or even a brownie square. Simplicity may be the key. Distill the inner beauty, the inner kindness.


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