May 18-25 is Celebrating Seniors Week here in Oak Park. Who is celebrating, and why? While I can understand that drug companies, nursing homes, Alzheimer’s researchers and the syndicators of Everybody Loves Raymond would celebrate seniors, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone else would.
Certainly those younger than seniors (we’ll call them “juniors”) and the unborn have more reason to curse seniors than to celebrate them. The threat to everyone’s future economic well being due to the growing debt created by Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and extravagant pensions has been documented.
For the record, these programs mainly benefit seniors. The systemic shortfalls will grow as growing numbers of seniors live longer and longer with ever more expensive medical bills. Perish the thought that seniors will help pay. The AARP with its millions of members will be most vigilant in this regard. And don’t forget seniors vote in great numbers. I can envision a protracted political struggle between seniors and juniors in this zero sum game. Maybe the Republican Party has a future after all.
As a 63-year-old if I am not a senior now (I prefer “mature middle age”), I will be very soon. And I ain’t celebrating. I do not celebrate: more frequent urination, sagging skin, grey hair, diminished hearing and physical endurance. Looking in the mirror and seeing a face that looks like a catcher’s mitt is not cause for celebration. The worst thing about being a senior is — and I do want to be sensitive — you’re getting close to dying. If you’re 63, you draw some comfort from the fact that lots of people live to be 80 or even 90. But that comforting thought is somewhat eroded when you attend your high school debate partner’s funeral.
When I was a young man, I used to say: “Double your age and if you’re still alive you’re still climbing the mountain of life.” Doubling my age results in 126 — so I’m on the downside of this mountain. If I look closely I can even make out the bottom. If life is the Chicago Marathon, then I’m past Chinatown coming up on Comiskey Park. And while that is perhaps cause for celebration if you’re a marathoner, it’s not if you’re a senior.
Hey, nobody lives forever.
But there are some good things about being a senior. Many of us don’t work. No weird bosses or annoying co-workers. You don’t have to worry about your kids getting cut from the soccer team or not getting into a $50,000-a-year college.
The best thing about being a senior is perspective. You really can’t have that until you’ve lived it. Big things like cars, houses and vacations seem smaller. Little things like watching Jon Stewart with your spouse, playing golf with your adult children and going down the slide with your grandchildren seem bigger — much bigger.
It’s kind of odd but even though I think about dying more than I used to, I’m not so sure I would want to do my life over again. Maybe one marathon is enough. And I really don’t care if I ever see the Great Wall of China.
I guess I agree with aging rocker Joe Walsh: “Life’s been good to me. So far.”