What does it even mean to “age gracefully?” No one asks the porch pumpkin to rot with dignity. I see the grey wrinkled suit hanging in the armoire and it fills me with dread. I don’t relish the choice between timorously irrelevant (“aww grandpa”) and pesky mildew (“OK boomer”). Cell decay isn’t cool and never will be. Marketers are eager to rechristen every incoming consumer cohort (Generation X, Millennials, Gen Z, Suckers), but “The Elderly” remains our enduring honorific for heaven’s waiting room.
Society worships youth. Not children, of course. Children are almost people and legal human slaves. Imagine treating adults the way we treat children:
“You’re not leaving until this entire living room is clean.”
I wouldn’t say that to someone paid to clean my house. (Even if it is implied.)
“Go to your room and stay there.”
Kidnapping a ’tween is socially acceptable.
“We are having turkey tonight and that’s final.”
Not even a hint of compromise. And there’s nothing kids can do. They can’t polish up their resume and find a more reasonable family. They can’t afford a stint in Bali to clear their heads.
Supercilious treatment at the hands of adults is their inescapable burden. Until, that is, their 18th birthday.
Rights, responsibilities, reality. “Here are your car keys, a ballot, and a handgun if you need it.” In civilized countries, you might even celebrate with Champagne. Don’t want to go to school? No one cares anymore. We do however, expect you to get a job. But don’t ask which job, or how to get it, or why you need it: nobody knows and at this point we’re too afraid to ask.
When I say society worships youth, it’s this stumbling, punch-drunk, baby horse of a deity that I speak of. Our most high God has the body of a adult and the mental experience of a child. And every culture on Earth dotes on these baby-fat grownups (henceforth the youth) to see what they will do.
The youth possess a divine proportion of unbridled optimism and utter lack of skill. What’s sexier than unearned confidence, supple skin, and a knack for poor decisions? This is not a slight. These folks are new to adulting, why should they be any good at it? I certainly wasn’t.
Besides, which would you rather watch on TV: a dramedy about a handful of pseudo-employed, effortlessly drunk, single people repeatedly blowing it in a big city or one about two mid-career married couples with a monthly standing brunch date in the suburbs?
The youth are Down For Whatever. The rest of us (children and olds alike) harbor a deep and palpable envy for their worldview. We place them center stage in our films and television. They are our idols. They are the silver lenticular upon which we project our precious pewter dreams.
The youth are in the sweet spot between parbaked and over-baked. I shall do more than envy this cohort, I mean to emulate them. Because among the generations, only our youth simultaneously stumble while pressing forward with optimism. They are not ashamed of hope. They are not calcified from cynicism nor atrophied from privilege. They are the adults who play while figuring it out. They are aging gracefully.