On my 50th birthday, my friend Joyce reassured me that the decade celebrations need not be such a big deal. The only reason they seem significant, she said, is because we humans have 10 fingers and toes. This is how we count—by tens.
Nevertheless, birthdays ending in zero do take on special meaning as you pass from one decade of your life to the next. For me, 50 wasn’t so bad; heck, even 60 was manageable. It was 30 I had trouble with.
Thirty was officially old. At 30, you were no longer a kid, and people of my generation liked being kids. We said “Never trust anyone over 30” until we ourselves hit that age—or anyway, those of us who didn’t die young. RIP Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.
But a funny thing happened on the way to maturity. It turned out, as Joyce might have predicted, that 30 really was just another year. We didn’t suddenly look, think or act like our parents. We kept wearing jeans. We still liked to party. We left our hair long and didn’t style it into a stiff Pat Nixon do.
Nor did we stop listening to Bob Dylan. Why should we when the man himself was urging us to stay “Forever Young”?
The love affair with youth, and determination to stay that way forever, is one of the defining characteristics of the baby boomers, according to humorist P.J. O’Rourke in his new book “The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way … And It Wasn’t My Fault … And I’ll Never Do It Again.” As the jacket flap says, “He writes about the way the postwar generation somehow came of age by never growing up.”
The book didn’t completely work for me. It’s a sometimes uneasy combination of memoir and social history written in O’Rourke’s trademark satirical style. Often enough I laughed out loud. But just as often I found the observations superficial.
Nevertheless, O’Rourke’s remarks about generational attitudes toward youth and aging certainly struck home—especially in the aftermath of the post-Oscars sniping about various stars’ Botox injections and plastic surgeries. Maybe the obsession with youth really has gone too far when someone as naturally attractive as Goldie Hawn shows up with a whole new, barely movable face.
Why would a generational cohort 75 million strong (by AARP’s accounting) so value immaturity? Actually, I don’t think it’s a Peter Pan kind of thing at all.
We do value the hard-won wisdom of years. But at the same time we want to remain flexible in our thinking (and bodies too; otherwise why all those yoga classes?). We don’t want to go sclerotic—in our blood vessels or our attitudes. We want to remain open to new ideas and experiences. That’s what Forever Young means to me, at any rate.
This morning on Facebook a friend shared a meme that sums it all up: “If you haven’t grown up by age 50, you don’t have to.” OK then. There’s nobody here but us kids.