Friday, September 9, 2011

THE VIEW FROM 50-SOMETHING

Yesterday I turned 50-something. Okay, okay, it’s 58. What the hell. You know, around the mid-50s, people start making “old jokes.” I never pay much attention to the old jokes because I do not feel any different than I felt at 40 something, except now I sort of get it. “It” in this case refers to life. Listen, it takes a good 50 years to get it, at least for some of us. The morning of my birthday there was a bomb threat at the university where I work, and somebody said to me, “I guess you’ve seen it all by now, huh?” Seen all what, I wondered. Not only have I not seen it all, but I believe in that old adage, “The older I get, the less I know.” Oh it’s not that I haven’t been paying attention, or that I have a hard time learning things. It’s just that every time I think I have things really figured out, there’s a bomb threat, or the truly wrong person gets elected, or somebody tries to make cigarettes cool again or telephones become computers or somebody like Kim Kardashian becomes famous without doing anything. It’s those curve balls they throw at us that really confound us. Kim Kardashian? Really? Come on.

I’d like to tell you the view from 50-something is clear and delightful, but the truth is it’s complex. I’m in the most interesting generation I can think of. We grew up in the 1960s when it became de rigueur for revered religious and political leaders to be shot dead on pavements coast to coast. We were raised on calamity. Then came Vietnam. Then Richard Nixon. Watergate. And horror upon horrors…disco. My generation does not wallow in the “good old days,” because the old days were not so good. We got out of college when the national unemployment rate was at about 10 percent. Cars weren’t air conditioned. Oy. Manual typewriters, lots of drugs (and not the good ones), polyester everything and canned peas. What’s to get all nostalgic about?

The view from 50-something is one of assimilation. We take all of the events and people to whom we were exposed, and we try to see where it brought us. But then, along comes Michele Bachmann or some other whack job that causes us to wonder how we got there. Surely we didn’t go through all of those tumultuous decades to arrive at a moment when inept people who lack sound judgment and reason actually believe they could be world leaders. It cannot be possible that we had all of the advances in digital communication and media so that somebody like, say, Chris Matthews could just yell and rail at his guests in the name of journalistic interviewing. Could all of the human ingenuity and foresight that it took to invent and advance the radio industry simply have been such so that somebody like Rush Limbaugh could become the highest paid radio broadcaster in history? Surely not. Something must have gone wrong in the universe to bring us through the entire civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s, just to arrive at a moment a half century later when statistics tell us more black men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began.

It seems impossible that here in the post-feminist age, after all of the Gloria Steinems, Simone de Beauvoirs and Betty Friedans of the world, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that women still earn about 79 cents on the dollar compared with men in the same occupations (That number drops to 68% for African-American women and 58% for Hispanics). Did you know of our 100 U.S. senators, only 17 are women? Wait…it gets worse – There have only been 39 women who have ever served in the U.S. Senate, since it was established in 1789.

At 50-something, many people in my generation are somewhat shocked at the lack of cultural change and social progress in our lifetimes. We have a lot of technology, plenty of luxury items and lots more free time than our grandparents, but real progress? Not so much. That’s discouraging for a population group that came of age in an activistic, idealistic moment and mindset. We truly believed we could change the world. It was the 1960s mentality. You may call it idealism. I think we thought of it as a formidable mix of personal power and hope.

So, with all of this said, how would I characterize the view from 50-something? Here are the keywords: Humble, hopeful, skeptical, sobering, exasperating, unpredictable, dynamic, fascinating and grateful. Listen, here is what I know for sure: Every moment has been and will continue to be a gift. That’s what life is, and isn’t a birthday the perfect time to say that out loud? Think about it. 58? Well, I’m a tweener. I’m not young, but I’m not old. It’s not all ahead of me, but it’s certainly not even nearly completed. The view from 50-something is just one of absolute amazement. After all, who among us could have known when we were 20-something that by the time we were 50-something, sex could kill you, marijuana could cure you and cars could talk? Like I said…amazing.

1 comment:

Igor Kopmar said...

Great post.I enjoyed a lot to reading this.