Baby Boomer Bust

The generation that set out to change the world got sidetracked by self-absorption.

As a baby boomer, I am getting really, REALLY tired of the endless stream of media stories about this so-called generation.

Boomers financially unprepared for retirement; boomers and exercise; boomers and Botox; boomers as caretakers; blah, blah blah. It seems the folks responsible for what Tom Wolfe labeled the "Me Generation" are stumbling into old age with about as much grace and good humor as a gorilla walking over a bed of hot coals.

Guess what? We all age; we all wither; and we all die. The trick is not to let the process get you down. There is nothing you can do about aging, though we seem hell-bent on spending billions of dollars to reverse, slow down or otherwise thwart this natural occurrence. As to withering, some of us will do so less well than others; it depends on a host of variables we are all well aware of: diet, genetics, exercise, etc. Death, the final gig, is inescapable, so now's the time to stop worrying about wrinkles, stop fretting about shrinking stock portfolios and start cultivating your sense of humor. Your life is not as important nor as unique as you imagine.

So rather than spend your last decades reading about yourself and how you can stay young forever, you might consider a simple suggestion: just be happy; or as the Fugs sing in a recent CD, "Try to be joyful."

Being joyful, in an apparent paradox, requires both great effort and no effort. The effort part involves ignoring most of what you see, hear and read. The no effort part means just that: letting go of attempts to thwart the natural order of things.

As one example of what can happen when a person is determined to stay young forever, consider the case of a woman named Sherry. (This is a true story.) Sherry was by far the oldest member of her circle. What seems like a lifetime or two ago, when aerobics and Jazzercise first became popular, Sherry decided to undertake a rigorous regimen of both. She's been a faithful practitioner for decades, and as a result, she is in what might be considered "very good shape," if your taste runs to hard and buff. Seen from behind, Sherry looks like a thirtysomething who takes good care of her body. When she turns around, if you're not careful, you might gasp: The disconnect is that startling. Her face betrays the fact that she could be someone's grandmother; for heaven's sake, she's old enough to be someone's great-grandmother.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with being in shape and taking care of yourself, but when it becomes obsessive--when you dedicate a huge portion of your time worrying about it and find yourself spending huge amounts of money trying to halt the clock--then it's become slavish.

It's sobering to realize the young people that reveled in nonconforming behavior and laughed at the conventions of their parents ended up ushering in a culture that has grown increasingly image-conscious and youth-oriented. We've moved beyond self-absorbed and are teetering on the brink of self-obsessed.

In a sad and ironic twist, the generation that was determined to save the world is now focused on saving itself. But instead of greeting the retirement years with a latte in one hand and a jar of wrinkle cream in the other, far better to roll up those sleeves and rededicate oneself to the tarnished ideals of the '60s.

There is no shortage of Earth-altering work that needs doing, and there are never enough people to get it done. While it is true that a large number of boomers have remained true to their dreams and are committed to making a difference, there are far too many who are focused on their navels instead of the larger community.

For those boomers who are already spending their time and energy on worthy projects, retirement holds the promise of large expanses of available time. But what about the others? How will they spend their time? Deciding between cappuccino and espresso? Arugula or radicchio?

At the end of our lives, do we want to look back on the final years and discover that we served no one but ourselves; that our days were marked by trivial pursuits and meaningless banalities? It's worth remembering that immortality cannot be purchased at a cosmetic counter, nor can it be assured by the dollar amount of your legacy.

So instead of pursuing eternal youth, consider mentoring a child or volunteering your time to some other worthy cause. It's through such actions that we connect to the generations that follow and bring grace and meaning to the last chapter of our lives.