Boomers discover mortality. (Stresslines).
Thus, alarms wail and drive the imagination to slow the ticking of the clock. After all, a generation that perfected jet travel, the Internet, and fast food should be able to toy with time any way they damn well please.
The boomers say, "We're not getting older. We're not even losing any of our faculties while aging gracefully And, we're certainly not inching toward a nursing home with its image of white-garbed attendants wiping drool from our chins. It is not going to happen. No way."
Instead, a nervous boomer will invent some clever catchphrase that extends middle age into . . . well, maybe not infinity but certainly long enough to create mass denial and ease the jitters about creeping age. Maybe we're not going to die. Like Burl Ives playing Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," let's all proclaim, "I think I'm going to live forever."
Once, before the time of hucksters, mankind followed a simple four-phase plan: youth, adulthood, old age, and dead as a doornail.
Then, the social scientists rightly demonstrated the reality of other stages, phases, and passages; and we took comfort in knowing that growing pains were inherent in a life cycle ordained by nature.
If we hung in long enough, we'd discover that we were built something like time-release capsules: As we reached specific ages, we'd experience thoughts and feelings suitable to the realities we had overcome and alerting us to the challenges ahead. True enough. The life cycle isn't an invention; it's a set of genuine realities we negotiate from birth to death -- unless we try to fool Mother Nature.
When we hit 55, the actuarial tables are predicting about a quarter century left to enjoy ourselves. At age 55, males have a life expectancy of 23.3 more years and females 27.4 years. Yes, we live longer. Yes, the miracles of modern medicine hold out hope for proving that the actuaries are giving us short shrift, etc. But, folks, some significant part of the end of our lives will be spent in old age. And rightly so, don't you think?
"Not so," say the hucksters.
Thus, the invention of a brand new stage of life staying the ravages of time: middlesence. Not senescence, middlesence -- middling interminably through the final stages of life.
Those who went before us used the final stages to prepare our wills and get our affairs in order. No need for that anymore. With the stroke of a keyboard, the middle part of our lives is being extended into a Great Age that, God and the hucksters willing, may not even terminate in "dead as a doornail."
Perhaps middlescence will be followed by post-middlescence or some other form of snake oil that softens the undeniable eventuality The search for eternal youth has been replaced by the hope that middle age might last forever. And, for a hidden bonus, those adolescents who were slow to grow up will surely become middlescents, slow to grow old.
The baby boomers are not happy with the prospect of growing older than they already are. The surveys show it, and the hucksters are making hay on it.
And, how will the consumer strategists address the 76 million members of the coming "mature market?" Don't call them golden-agers. Don't call them seniors or gray hairs. Don't indicate in any way that they're growing older. Certainly, don't lump them in with that group of golden oldies who have already seen 55 come and go. Instead, they are subliminally conned into believing that the Madison Avenue handstand of middlescence will halt all fears of the grim reaper.
Erik Erickson, one of the psychologists responsible for developing stage theories of the life cycle, had no difficulty punctuating the later years with a specific stage. He called it ego-integrity vs. despair.
When we have lived our lives fully, healthy persons accept the triumphs and failures of the life cycle as something that had to be, without alteration or substitution, the patrimony of one's history, and the legacy for those who remain.
The unwillingness to accept the whole of one's life cycle expresses itself in the fear of death; despair triggers awareness that remaining years are short and activates a frantic search for alternate possibilities -- like middlesence.
In another quarter century, the oldest baby boomers will be nearing the end of middlesence (namely, death) while the youngest will be sharpening their denial skills.
If we allow ourselves to be huckstered into a phony middlesence, we may never claim the right to grow old gracefully, to showcase the gift of aging for younger generations, to gather our wits and memories and weave the fabric of our histories into a statement of whom we have been and what our lives have stood for.
Ashley Montagu once said he wanted to live fast and die young -- as late as possible. Of course, he was just being clever. Just because we're growing older doesn't mean we can't have some fun with it.
We'd all like to hang on for a few more years, especially if we can manage our own drool. Some of us gray-haired, wrinkled oldsters are still buying green bananas and enjoying the audacity to work our appointment books by the month.
While we're middling toward the end of middlescence, however, we might lend due consideration to the meaning of our lives and how we will frame our convictions for posterity and the leap into the unknown.
Soon enough, it's old age and dead as a doornail. As nature intended. Some part of the final stage involves preparing ourselves for that reality so that those we leave behind may lead lives of conscious integrity without diving headlong into the denial pit.
Our time will come. When it does, better to face it like a mensch rather than a con artist feigning surprise and disbelief -- and oozing Eriksonian despair.
Dr. Bernard G. Suran, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and diplomat and fellow of the Academy of Clinical Psychology and the American Board of Professional Psychology. This column is published under the sponsorship of the Quality of Life and Career Committee. The committee's Web site is at www.flalap.org/qlsm. The Quality of Life and Career Committee, in cooperation with the Florida State University College of Law, also has an interactive listserv titled "The Healthy Lawyers." Details and subscription information regarding the listserv can be accessed through the committee's Web site or by going directly to www.flalap.org/qlsm.
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|Author:||Suran, Dr. Bernard G.|
|Publication:||Florida Bar News|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2002|
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