The Mountain Times

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Boomers on aging perhaps not-so-gracefully

So, we aren't called 'Baby Boomers' anymore. If you've been around for half a century or so, 'baby' just doesn't cut it. We are 'Boomers' and we have pretty much had it our way our entire lives. Love us or hate us, we have been hard to ignore.

Now, we are qualifying for Social Security at somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 people a day. That's a lot of candles on birthday cakes. Or, more likely, it is a lot of birthday cakes without candles or with only a single candle. For while we have not been modest about much, we appear to be pretty bashful about getting older. It is no coincidence that cosmetic surgery became the major industry it is about the same time our faces started to wrinkle and our butts started to sag.

We are the first generation to want to skateboard with our grandchildren. We have transformed riding a Harley from an act of rebellion to a status symbol for accountants and aging weekend warriors.  Stand back, grandpa is about to peel out...

To say we are not aging gracefully is about as much of an understatement as can be made in that few words.  While we aren't forever young, we are making a good run at being perpetually immature. And that is too bad because to be able to grow older is a blessing and it endows us with gifts to share.

After all, how are the youth of today going to learn about aging if we don't teach them? Who else is there to impart the lessons of dignity and patience that come with the accumulation of years? We are time-travelers leading the way into the unknown. In all of history, there have never been so many old people alive at one time.  We are truly going "where no man has gone before." No woman either, incidentally.

Teddy Roosevelt once said that it falls to each generation to face a special task. It doesn't matter whose fault it is; they must face it and succeed. It is their debt to those Americans who have gone before them and their responsibility to those generations who will come after them.

What if the Boomers' challenge is to show the nation how to age successfully? To grow old in a way that brings value to everyone. To secure for subsequent generations the privilege of some well-earned years of rest and repose before the grave. In this time, when the very concept of retirement for working people is being called into question, maybe it is our burden to protect this right for our children and their children.

There is much today to suggest that benefits for the aging come at the expense of the young. But how can this be if all people are aging? We who are older are the canaries in the coalmine. We are not a drag on the economy; we are a stabilizing force. We are not just enjoying the social safety net, we are a vital part of sustaining it.

So, I beseech my fellow Boomers to embrace our years as accomplishments. Wear wrinkles proudly, they mark our endurance and they proclaim our victory against time. Do not blush at greying hair; wear it proudly. It is a mark of our distinction and proof of the tests we have passed. And, oh yes, be careful on those skateboards.

Aging in place, it doesn't happen by accident but it does happen to all of us, in spite of ourselves.

Scott Funk is Vermont's leading Aging in Place advocate, writing and speaking around the state on issues of concern to retirees and their families. He can be reached at vermontfunk.com.