Beauty . . . In Aging

As we age, it seems to me there’s a great deal of looking back. We become naturally more reflective. We measure our lives as a way of answering some pointed questions. Did my life matter? Did I accomplish something that will remain after I’m gone?NotOld

Recently, I came across a fascinating project produced by the Yale Divinity School. Aptly named Reflections, the Fall 2013 issue of this magazine offers a stunning photo essay, viewable on its website. The issue’s theme is Test of Time: The Art of Aging.

Beyond the photos, short articles offer interesting first-person memoirs and discussion. Editor Ray Waddle prefaces the journey by challenging his readers:  “The sooner we face our conflicted thoughts about aging, the better.” He invites us into the rest of the magazine to “… finally see the beauty of age.” His challenge presents itself as a superb work of art.

I’m still trying to decide how to define my personal attitude toward aging. Am I, as Waddle asserts, conflicted? No, I don’t enjoy the aches and pains (or health issues in general) that are a byproduct of aging. No, I don’t like the cultural tilt that turns its back on people over fifty. Nor do I appreciate the frequent categorization of “seniors” based on assumptions that may or may not be true of me (or scores of others my age).

But, I’ve learned to ignore such stereotyping. I’ve also learned to accept that as we age, our bodies will eventually wear out. I hated to read a story about Jane Fonda’s blog post (posted but then removed) where she admits difficulty as she contemplates her mortality. (My goodness, the picture in that story certainly belies her 76 years!)

Mortality isn’t something Baby Boomers ever wanted to face. But if we didn’t want to admit it then, it’s impossible now to deny that age enforces a brutal price. (My sonnet Aging Well says exactly that:  we tender youth.)

Recalling what has gone before in our lives can be a means for weighing and embracing the good things we sometimes forget. Before aches and pains begin to overwhelm (or dementia gradually robs you of the precious memories), one of the sweetest exercises may be to reminisce … maybe even create a scrapbook of reflections. (One of the articles in the Reflections magazine provides a thoughtful conversation about dementia.)

As we age, one of the joys my Beloved and I share is the appreciation of our four adult offspring. In them (yes, even with our estranged son), we love the adults they have become. We’re always amazed by the part we were privileged to play in their lives!

This sonnet was written some years ago, before our sons left home. I remember people around me talking about the “empty nest,” warning me it would be a difficult transition. (I didn’t find it to be.)

The years since have continued to be (as the poem suggests) a series of adventures for me. I’m older than when I wrote this sonnet, but I’m still enthusiastic about the future with its “new adventures” … and more blessed than ever!

A-Mothers-Reflections, mother, daughter, beauty, son, sonnet, poem, poetry
Sonnet: A Mother’s Reflections
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Not Much Happy Talk?

AncestryHow many children were born to your great-grandparents? How many born to your grandparents? How many to your parents? And if you’re a parent, how many children were born to you and your spouse?

For me, the answers on my paternal side are 8, 6 and 6: eight children born to my great-grandparents (two of whom died as teenagers) and six children born to my grandparents (one of whom died in infancy). Six children were born to my parents (one of whom died in infancy) and my husband and I had four children.

On my mother’s side of the family, the answer is 4, 2 and 6. My great-grandparents had four children (two of whom died in infancy) and my grandparents had two children (one of whom died in infancy). As previously mentioned, my folks bore six and I had four.

I ask these questions for two reasons. The first:  I’m a genealogy nut and these kind of comparisons are interesting to me, and secondly, I consider demographics a fascinating way in which to understand some things about our world.

DentI’ll put this into the context of a new book I ran across this week. The Demographic Cliff: How to Survive and Prosper During the Great Deflation of 2014-2019 looks like an interesting entry into the overall demographics discussion. Author Harry S. Dent, Jr. (not to be confused with the Batman franchise’s Two-Face character Harvey Dent) has written at least eight previous books in which he discusses population trends and how these trends interface with market outcomes and a population’s eventual impact on an economy.

As a Baby Boomer myself, I find Dent’s observations compelling. My husband and I tend to reflect many of the buying and spending patterns of our fellow Baby Boomers. Dent uses Japan as a primary exhibit in extrapolating how the aging of a culture has a direct impact on a nation’s economy.

Entering their 60s and 70s, Baby Boomers are moving away from the “I can afford it” and “I deserve it” mode into an opposite, the mode of capital preservation. As a general rule, Baby Boomers are thinking less about the newer, bigger house or the head-turning new automobile and focusing more on maintaining sufficient funds to support our independence by keeping the nest-egg funded long enough to make it to our final breath.

I ask my Baby Boomer friends, am I wrong?

If you’re a member of a younger generation, Dent’s scenario won’t offer any comfort to you. In fact, if you take a look at most of his other book titles, Dent’s doom and gloom theme seems to predominate. In a December post at Business Insider, author Steven Perlberg (who looks to be much younger than the Baby Boomer demo) sardonically characterizes Dent’s latest book as “cheery stuff.” Another post (The Market Oracle from the UK) begins an author interview with these words:  “There’s little happy talk in Harry Dent’s new book …” 

Ever since the 1987 release of Ben J. Wattenberg‘s book, The Birth Dearth, I’ve paid some attention to the discussion surrounding population trends. I’m far from an expert on the subject, but I’ve always looked at the trends that were operative in my own family tree.

Certainly, one of the primary things I learn from my family history, I’m immensely grateful we live in an age when infant mortality has decreased considerably. Just looking at the trend of births in several generations of my family seems significant. My paternal great-grandparents had twice as many children as my husband and I. Furthermore, many of our peers characterized our family as being on the “large” side. (For families with one or two children, four does indeed seem large.)

On my maternal side, I had the same number of births as my great-grandparents, but significantly, all of my children lived into adulthood.

I also find it striking that my paternal great-grandparents (having emigrated from Germany and settling in St. Louis) raised a larger family overall than my maternal great-grandparents who had been born and whose family had been rooted in Philadelphia from several previous generations. I can’t help wondering if this was an expression of differences between the two sub-cultures (eastern US and central US).

What do you think? Are we headed over a cliff, as Harry S. Dent suggests? Whether or not it’s a cliff, I think it’s prudent to weigh the possibilities and consider our options. Your comments and observations are always welcome!

Peace, Baby Boomer

The current circumstance of Baby Boomery continues to draw my interest. Yesterday’s post brought back some memories of things forgotten … and nostalgia can be fun!baby-boomers

But make no mistake about this era: it was not (as some younger folk seem prone to believe) an idyllic age. As with every generation, we experienced both the best and the worst of our time. We have nothing but our own experiences from which to draw … and no basis for comparison with any other time. As to tags like best and worst, I won’t speak for my peers but I’ll venture into personal opinion about what I remember. 

The “best” of that time may have been the prosperity that allowed us to enjoy such abundance unknown to previous generations. We were blessed. Our horizons were expanding into space, technology was just in its infancy but with so much potential.

Most likely the “worst” would include all the ugly incidents and tragedies that were seared forever into our memories. Some were our own private Hells while others were terribly public and seemingly all-encompassing. I don’t have to enumerate them here. A Google search is more than adequate to dredge up all the details.

Baby Boomers as a whole have often been fond of “causes,” including the so-called Peace Movement. We were, after all, the children taught to take cover under our desks (today, they’d call it “sheltering in place”) in the event of a nuclear attack. (As if crawling under one’s desk would save us?! Yeah, I know. We were naive.)

Today’s Baby Boomers (many of whom are at or close to retirement age) may have difficulty remembering those days. I offer the sonnet below to help clear away some of the fog.

Peace-Movement, peace, 60s, make love, not war, Twiggy, sonnet, poetry, poem, youth
Sonnet: Peace Movement

Whether it’s world-peace or inner-peace, no generation is able to corner the market on this precious commodity. Ours didn’t.

In his book, The Iranian Time Bomb, Michael Ledeen says:  “Americans are the first people in the history of the world to believe that peace is the normal condition of mankind.”

I’m guessing Ledeen’s observation wasn’t directed at the Greatest Generation.

Gloom, Doom and Boomer

There’s an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal called The Boomer Bust by writer extraordinaire P. J. O’Rourke. In his essay, O’Rourke cedes that Baby Boomers are “greedy” for money. Coincidentally, O’Rourke is hawking a book, this column being an adaptation from said new release, The Baby Boom:  How It Got That Way (And It Wasn’t My Fault) (And I’ll Never Do It Again)

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Now, as a Baby Boomer, I’m always interested in the subject − which I suppose O’Rourke would consider completely apropos, given our generation’s propensity to believe everything is about usit is, isn’t it? A Boomer’s world is the ubiquitous, irrepressible … me, myself and I … self.

Masterful wordsmith that he is, O’Rourke has captured the essence, warts and all (for they are legion) of Baby Boomery. I have to confess, his description depressed me − because there was no way to deny how reasonable his assessment is.

To be fair, O’Rourke’s column wasn’t the first thing to spark my near-suicidal gloom. Having just read Tyler Durden’s Zero-Hedge post The Other America:  “Taxpayers Are the Fools … Working is Stupid,” I was already teetering on the ledge.

I should have taken a break, found a way to refocus and regain my perspective, but no, O’Rourke is so compelling! I came in off the ledge to devour his post, hoping for a few humorous Boomerisms to counter the aforementioned Durden’s Gloomerisms. 

Should’ve known better. Back on the ledge I climbed.

“The world is our fault,” O’Rourke says of Baby Boomers … and I visualize his long, bony finger pointing directly at me … because I know he’s telling the truth! I am beside myself in despair! In fact, he echoes Durden’s theme:  “… we’re the generation who insisted that a passion for living should replace working for one.” Aargh!

I won’t lie. I hated reading O’Rourke’s observations but who would dare argue with them? He writes:  “If we hadn’t decided to be young forever, we’d be old.” Boom!

We are old − no matter how hard we pretend otherwise. I’ve posted about aging before (here, here). Funny how it seems to be a common theme for me! When I read O’Rourke’s The Boomer Bust essay, I immediately thought about the sonnet shown below.

Aging-Well, aging, youth, twenty-one, 21, wrinkles, implants, sonnet, poetry, poem
Sonnet: Aging Well

Those of us who are Baby Boomers thought we could change the world. (I’m guessing we haven’t been the only generation who embraced that slightly misguided but lofty goal, though we may have been the most shameless to do so.)

But I wonder … were we always too busy trying to change the world so that we forgot to cherish the small moments of truth, beauty and goodness that could have been ours to savor? That would be reason enough for despair.

Carpe Diem

For something a bit different today, I chose a slightly whimsical sonnet, one written a number of years ago … when I was much younger!

My-Prime-Meridian, aging, middle age, sonnet, poem, light verse
Sonnet: My Prime Meridian

It’s funny how as one gets older, the bar of “old age” automatically moves a few more years out from one’s present age. At least, that’s the way I think about it.

I’m part of that Baby-Boomer generation that latched onto a throw-away phrase attached to the so-called “free speech movement.” They said:  don’t trust anyone over 30. (This wasn’t my philosophy, but the ideology seemed to resonate with people around me.) Today, baby boomers are wa-a-a-a-a-a-y over 30 — by double or more! And I find it interesting to observe how the “free speech movement” remains mostly silent and invisible in the face of government-mandated  “speech codes” having been adopted on many college campuses.

But I digress

When I think of aging, I don’t actually suffer from cowardice (as the poem suggests). Rather, I’m usually inspired by my intrepid mother (now 87 years old). She lost much of her freedom when she voluntarily gave up driving. Her vision is minimal and her hearing has diminished yet she maintains an optimistic, buoyant spirit. Were I to look up the definition of contentment in a dictionary, I would suspect her picture is prominently displayed on the page.

With Mom as my role model, aging doesn’t bother me. I don’t expect to achieve Biblical status (Genesis 5:27 says Methuselah lived 969 years) but I like what Proverbs 16:31 says:

A gray head is a crown of glory;
It is found in the way of righteousness.

Forward to contentment!