you are going to die

That’s the title of a piece by Tim Kreider on the New York Times Opinionator blog, and I hope it’s not news to everyone who passed me the link. Some of Krieder’s other eye-popping observations: you’re not getting any younger. You have to say goodbye to your childhood home. The old and infirm are pretty much missing from movies and TV. (There’s a term for that: symbolic annihilation.) 

Another point of Kreider’s with which I agree wholeheartedly: isolating ourselves from the reality of aging and death is a mistake. He puts it wittily: “Segregating the old and the sick enables a fantasy, as baseless as the fantasy of capitalism’s endless expansion, of youth and health as eternal, in which old age can seem to be an inexplicably bad lifestyle choice, like eating junk food or buying a minivan, that you can avoid if you’re well-educated or hip enough.”

But Kreider gets other important stuff wrong.  “All [deaths are] pretty messy and unpleasant and there’s not a lot you can do to prepare yourself,” for example. And “Life is not shaped like a story; it’s an elongate and flattened bell curve, with an attenuated, anticlimactic decline as long as its beginning.” In fact we live far longer as adults than as children; the second half of life is no more anticlimactic than what precedes it; nor is it inherently less pleasant. It looks that way because our youth-centric culture sees midlife and beyond only through the lens of loss, and because that’s the story the media tells. It also looks that way until people begin to reckon honestly with the lived experience. Hats off to Kreider for getting started. He’ll feel better once he stops feeling sorry for himself and can believe what he writes about his mother’s move to a retirement community: “She’s looking forward to it, and she really will be happier there.”

3 thoughts on “you are going to die

  1. I love what you are doing. Maybe next time you’re in L.A. we can visit my mother and her ancient friends for happy hour at the Breakers retirement community in downtown Long Beach!

  2. Interestingly, I am probably the oldest faculty member of the LBCC English dept., full-time tenured (which I am not) or adjunct. When I first applied for the full-time job, I was already approaching 50 and was passed over for a bevy of lovely younger candidates. Just recently,  one of my colleagues confided in me that many of my “juniors” cannot believe that I wasn’t hired for tenure track. I suspect agism may have played a huge part in that. I’m well beyond wanting that “prize” but do wonder how rampant agism still is in the job market, and how to best combat it.

  3. What bell jar is Mr Kreider living under, that he characterizes life’s trajectory as a tragically flattened bell curve? &nbsp;My mother, who died two weeks ago at 86, not unexpectedly, had a pile of requests on her desk from foreign governments and NGOs to help negotiate massive international problems. &nbsp;There was another pile asking for articles and contributions to books. &nbsp;<div><br></div><div>If the apex of Mr Kreider’s curve was as high as the endpoint of hers, perhaps his angle on age’s possibilities would not be so sad and small. &nbsp;<br></div>

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