They were the Vietnam generation that changed America forever. Tell a Baby Boomer there's nothing wrong with aging naturally and he'll give you his whiter than white Colgate smile. Aging is not an option in a society that worships youth and looks right through its elders. Embracing the myth of forever young and beautiful, our soon to be elders will not remain as invisible as their forebears. Nor have they, collectively, saved enough to retire as gracefully. Boomers will continue to pile up debt, deny the laws of nature and make plastic surgeons rich beyond their dreams.
"Within You Without You"
We all want to be attractive to others; it makes us feel good about ourselves. But when we feel good about ourselves on the inside, we don't have to worry about the outside. Miraculously, the external shell takes care of itself by reflecting what's inside. A generation ago the Beatles visited an Indian guru and brought back with them the beginnings of a cultural revolution that today is, with all the American accoutrements, a multi-billion dollar business. Could the original intent somehow have gotten lost among the Ommms?
In other cultures, including Native American, elders are revered for their character lines-those admirable symbols of wisdom gained from fighting foreign wars, having babies, losing loved ones and starting over. In focusing our ubiquitous digital lenses on the fountain of youth, we have relegated elders to shadowy figures in the background. In our enlightened information age, beauty is valued over substance and information eclipses wisdom.
We know the brain consists of two separate structures, right and left. In the January 16, 2006 issue of Newsweek Magazine, an article by Gene Cohen, M.D., PH.D devotes considerable ink to the subject of the brain. "Unlike young adults who handle tasks with one side or the other," says Cohen, "Elders tend to use both hemispheres. ...The brain of a mentally active 50-year-old looks like a dense forest of interlocking branches, and this density reflects both deeper knowledge and better judgment."
In his Bestselling book, Tuesdays With Morrie, Mitch Albom writes about recurring visits with his old professor, the sagacious Morrie. Anyone who's spent quality time with an elder can relate. Yet, a disproportionate number of our elders languish in nursing homes, and become the focus of jokes.
"Three old guys are out walking. First one says, "Windy, isn't it?" Second one says, "No it's Thursday." Third one says, "So am I. Let's go get a beer."
"The Sound of Silence"
In order to make sense of my phone messages, I have to play them three or four times because they sound like the Munchkins. The velocity of life today reminds me of a 1983 documentary of Phillip Glass called Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out Of Balance. When I first saw this fascinating film I was disturbed by the foretelling of a speeded-up world I could not imagine. Guess what? It's here.
"Bridge Over Troubled Waters"
Hollywood celebs from my generation look today like they looked 30 years ago. Teenagers, some in my own family, manifest emotional disorders and illnesses unheard of a generation ago. Men now have their magic pill. Women hate their bodies. How has the anorexic young American woman become the role model for millions? What is desirable about a hank of hair and a bag of bones in or out of bed? Why do paparazzi chase after a vacuous face with nothing to offer but a bare belly holding a tiny dog?
But Wait. While our guys are dining on MREs in what my generation called "The Big Muddy", aren't we told we're a junk food nation of overeating, overweight fatsos? Thousands of how-to exercise and diet books are rushed to print by a profit or perish publishing industry. Advertisers compete for costly space to hawk the latest scientifically approved methods of losing all that fat. Some of those same advertisers own the junk food companies who sponsor the networks who bow to the corporations. So who are we, and what exactly is the sum of all our parts?
"While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
As a people, we've always been the most creative nation on earth. Whatever anyone else could do, we did it first or better. That was then. The financial pundits tell us if we're not in the top ten percent, we're mortgaging a home we can't afford; we're buying everything else on credit we'll never finish paying off.
"Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?"
When I was growing up my family was considered middle class. Yet, as former Third World countries become the new wealth, the American middle class is disappearing. In the global economy, our marketplace is flooded with inferior imports and we are in debt up to our eyeballs. For the sake of beauty, possessions and the DOW, we're forgetting who we are and where we came from. For the sake of the bottom line of the upper ten percent, we might be outsourcing the soul of a nation. But don't despair. Once our elders follow John Wayne into the sunset, we won't know the difference. We'll be young and beautiful forever.
With great respect to Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Elvis Presley, Paula Cole, Pete Seeger and The Beatles