A video has been making the rounds recently about two “grannies” taking their first-ever flight, one of whom was 71 years old. Later the same night, a newscaster described a gunman in his early 70s as “elderly.” Soon afterwards I was reading an article about health guidelines for “older people over 60.”
What is wrong with this picture? People are rushing us into old age far too soon. I don’t mean from a standpoint of chronological age. Rather, I mean the indescribable social chasm beyond which we become sexless, out of touch, or looked upon with patronizing cuteness.
The video of this 71 year old particularly struck me, because my still youthful, drop-dead gorgeous spouse turns 66 this year. Does she turn into an old biddy in just five years? The surviving Doobie Brothers are around 70 now, and they are still rocking down the highway – in fact, they had a new album on the charts recently. And when I’m 71 and getting on an airplane, it will hopefully be to keynote a major conference, like I often do now, not to gawk out the window about these amazing flying contraptions.
This isn’t the first generation to put up an arbitrary wall around people who are still rather viable. In 1970 a then-23 year old Elton John spun a grim tale of being “Sixty Years On”: your dog died ten years ago, people sympathetically help you shuffle down to church, and he concludes that he has no wish to still be living then. Never mind that he is now 67 years old and spending the next couple of months touring Europe. I will be “sixty years on” this year, and I can at least tell you what it is like for me: I had a major book release a year ago, am busier than ever, and recently finished graduate school and started a new career. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see an old person looking back.
The reality is that the Baby Boomer generation is much more than an age group – we are a cultural force, and we aren’t giving up our grip on life anytime soon. Try to push us toward the shuffleboard court, and we are likely to push back and write bestsellers. And star in films. And program supercomputers. And in the process, make everyone reconsider what age really means in society. We don’t plan to ever go away quietly.
A couple of years ago, people were wondering why Paul McCartney was in tears at the opening of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. I think I know why – it is because he realized that his own song “When I’m 64” took place six years earlier. (Sir Paul turns 72 this year.) But seriously, I would like to propose reserving the term “elderly” for people who are at least 80 from now on. And 20 years from now, God willing, I reserve the right to change my mind again. Deal?