One of the biggest problems is that older Americans are less relevant, in general, than ever before. I don't know how it is for other middle-aged folks but for me it's the single hardest thing to deal with about growing older. Our culture is not one that venerates the wise elders as leaders and advice-givers. Instead, we smile indulgently at them and talk about how nice they are. Seniors, have, truly, becomes a second type of child in our society.
I can see it in how my best friend and I talk about our 80-something mothers. At their age, they are often opinionated without knowledge, stubborn without reason, and difficult because they will not listen to modern ideas that could make their lives better. They can be hard to manage, and hard to help. In many ways, they remind us of our children when they were little. And so the idea that they are really just big children emerges, not without reason.
But if you're in middle age, eventually you come to the realization that, like it or not, you are on the same road that your parents are. And your ultimate destiny is either to be a pain the ass or become cute. Maybe both.
For instance, there was an older gentleman (probably late seventies/early eighties) in the winery the other day, dropping off a product he was selling. He had his own, homemade receipts, and kind of fumbled around trying to get his materials and invoice together. We were very busy, and so while he was poking around in his box looking for his paperwork, I was glancing anxiously back to the bar and the customers seated outside.
And after he left, we were talking about him behind the bar. "Did you see that old man today, dropping off his stuff and giving us his little invoice? He was just so sweet."
"I know," the other gal behind the bar with me said, "so cute."
Yes, the older you get, the more you get relegated to The Cute Zone, along with toddlers, kittens and internet videos of goats climbing on stuff. A lifetime of bruising experience, real world crisis management and raising the next generation to responsible adulthood, and the result is becoming just ... darling!
It's maddening, except of course that to some extent, it is absolutely appropriate and correct.
And here's why it makes sense: When you are in your 30's, you are absolutely essential to your children's lives, and probably equally as essential in the workplace. Were you to depart at this time, the ripples in your part of the world would be significant and long-lasting. There are many people who would, literally, never get over it. Should you die before your parents or while your children are little, that is absolutely 1000 percent true.
That kind of importance declines on a kind of slow, sliding scale until, let's say, you are 70. At age 70 our children may love us, but odds are we are no longer essential in their lives. We are probably no longer essential in the workplace either, having either already retired or getting ready to. So our true career days are over. Our grandchildren probably love us, but they don't really need us the way they need their parents.
And this is exactly the way Mother Nature designed it. About the time you are at an age to sign out and move on to Whatever's Next, your presence is no longer essential here. It kind of works.
And so from now (sometime between 50 and 70, depending on your stage of life) until the time they call your name to cross the river between the worlds, well, now you are in the process of becoming cute. And sweet, and stubborn, in the same way a toddler can be sometimes. And a little behind the times, but charmingly so. In short, irrelevant.
I guess what I never knew when I was younger is that the people in the process of becoming irrelevant are acutely aware of it. I'm 53 and I can see it quite clearly. Not all of us can. There's a guy (quite a bit older than me) in our local paper, who writes a weekly opinion column that usually has something to do with "the way things were," never realizing that the next generation tires of this kind of talk quite easily. Oh sure, we might enjoy hearing about the heyday of Hollywood or the price of gas in 1955 -- for about five minutes. But what was an interesting, fascinating and memorable era in his life is just a story for us. The past is a place we like to take a quick peek at, but have no interest in hearing a play-by-play repeat of (unlike, often, the person telling the story).
I used to lament that my generation had little access to our great-grandmother's homesteading skills, but I was wrong. With the advent of the internet, a whole new generation is becoming competent in canning, farming with horses, growing food from seeds and making medicinals from wild plants and herbs. Those skills may not be common in society, but those skills will carry on thanks to a few young people who've mastered them. That's good news, because someday, they may all become essential skills again, and it's nice to know they will abide over time. The human race, may literally, depend on it someday if things continue along the path they are.
But this new generation's competence in the "old" ways also proves, more than anything, that the former generation is somewhat disposable, and that can life go on successfully without your grandparents, then without your parents, and eventually, without you. But before you go, if you are relatively healthy, your life does go on awhile -- in cuteness rather than importance; at a charmingly (or annoyingly) slower pace than the rest of society, and in memories more in the distant past than the recent one.
So stay tuned, folks, because in the next 20 years, I have a feeling this blog is going to damned...CUTE! But one thing I promise you ... while I may still offer tips on canning and growing food, I will try and refrain from waxing nostalgic over the price of gas in the 1970's. (Which was $.65 a gallon, in case anyone cares. Which they really don't.)