Since I titled another post “Oh Grow Up,” I’m establishing a category: the Boomer Lament. The latest entry, “When Did We Get So Old?” appeared on the New York Times’ Most Emailed list, so it’s clearly striking a chord. Make that chord the twang of a tragic country song: How could this happen to me-ee-ee-ee?
What trauma might that be? Looking around and “suddenly” finding yourself the oldest person in the room. The horror, the horror! “Every generation gets old, but for those who were told we’d be forever young, it just seems more painful,” writes journalist Michele Willens. Told by whom, rock & roll lyricists? Cosmetics companies? Fairies? Oh grow up! Of course it’s unnerving to realize you’re now older than cops and presidents, but it’s no tragedy. It’s the way of the world and it’s the task of every generation and every individual to come to terms with it, preferably without the whining.
“Misery loves company,” writes Willen, referring to the fact that an American turns 50 every seven seconds, at which point we become “sufferers.” Sufferers, really? Because we’re not immortal? Because bellies thicken and senses dull? Time magazine’s David Von Drehle paints those natural transitions as “slow dawning treachery.” Treachery, really? For those lucky enough to experience them, these signs of long life are the way of the world.
Laments like Willen’s are all too common, no surprise in a culture that depicts aging-past-youth as decline. They’re not all the work of boomers either. At 44, writer Judith Warner bid forever to “excitement, discovery, intensity.” At 78, novelist and lawyer Louis Begley chronicled “Age and Its Awful Discontents.” Deconstructed, they tell a different story, as Willens begins to as well. Having returned to college, she finds herself learning from her much younger classmates, as of course they do from her. Such is the way of the world . . . to be savored, not lamented.