“Aging: America Needs to Address
The Coming Hordes”
By Mark Schwartz
My cousin Mark Schwartz is mentioned in How We Love Now as one of the folks who reconnected with a college sweetheart and found happiness at last. Before that, though, he was married and divorced twice and developed a web site – suddenbachelor.com – for midlife men in the same boat. Recently he has become a blogger on Huff/Post50, where I also blog.
His latest article – “Aging: America Needs to Address The Coming Hordes”- is a very strong and thoughtful appeal to start a real conversation about alternative living arrangements for aging parents (and, soon, ourselves)…
I read a recent USA Today article, the thesis of which was this: American cities, build your arks and get ready for a flood of aging boomers. If this “back third” of our lives is to be anywhere near as good as the first two, I submit it’s time to apply some proactive American “can do” to how the old can live rather than pursue more of the same old approaches.
You ever see the South Park “Grey Dawn” episode? That’s the one where a horde of old people get behind the wheels of their cars mowing down scores of South Parkers until the citizenry rises up and deprives the elderly of their licenses, only to be thwarted by the AARP. The addled death car drivers are finally defeated when the kids cut off their food supply. Haven’t seen it? That means you are a mature post-50 adult. I am not. Mature, that is.
But there’s a lesson in all this. Old people are horrible drivers. Actually, no, that’s not the real lesson. To me, it’s that maybe the elderly shouldn’t be encouraged by bad alternatives to stay in their houses for decades — like my esteemed parents — and then be forced either to pretend they aren’t old and get behind the wheel to get places, or to go to a nursing home or some other depressing place. The lesson for me (probably only for me) from this awesome episode is — to quote the venerable Kevin Costner (or his movie at least) — “if you build it, they will come.”
Huh? Build what? Nursing homes? NO. Nursing homes are where the imaginations of the businessmen and governments that create them, and the old people who become their inmates, go to die. No, instead build something much cooler — a place for the old to live, not to die.
Yes, there are assisted living places for people with money. But I hate the term assisted living. It sounds like life support, somehow. What I’m thinking of is a way to embrace this back third of life. Which leads to a more general rant: We have become a reactive rather than proactive nation in everything but the financial industry’s inexhaustible industriousness in finding new and dodgier ways to skim money from the economy. Where’s the spark of real creativity and can-do, applied not only to our decaying society generally, but more specifically to how aging boomers can live?
My thesis of American society is: We started with the spark of freedom and now after the conflagration that created this country and sparked two centuries of progress, we are left with the embers of that original America, a country now dominated by avarice, prejudice and cowardice. Cowardice? Yes, the cowardice of hiding behind untruths and distortions, not facing up to the facts. Global warming? A hoax. Loving the springlike February weather, BTW.
Economic inequality? Not nearly as important as making sure a black president doesn’t send his big government into my trailer to take my guns and make me accept black people or women as equals. The inevitable process of aging? Put it in a closet with the other skeletons, I would rather delude myself I’m young with the help of surgery, dietary supplements and a place for old people to go where they’re not in my face all the time.
In other words, and here’s the chance of my actually returning to the point: We have become a reactive nation and that’s as evident in our handling of old age as it is in our reactions to other seismic trends.
How do we react to old age?