Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sky-Diving Seniors? Not Me!

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sky-Diving Seniors? Not Me!

Article excerpt

My attention was seized by a bold, rhetorical headline recently while browsing the magazine rack in the library. "Tired of being a beach potato?" it asked, then urged: "Turn your life into an adventure story."

Below was a picture of somebody who did just that: An exultant senior, his arms triumphantly aloft, standing on a craggy rise against a cold, gray sky. His name was Sal Pomponi, according to the magazine; he was 62 years old, and had just climbed Antarctica's highest peak.

In pages following there were other aging adventurers: Kelly and Antje Gunnar, scuba diving off the Netherlands Antilles; or Betty Platero, among the penguins, on the South Georgia Islands.

Once again, I asked myself why those of us living through the years of human maturity today are so frequently depicted in magazines and in televised advertisements as engaged in strenuous sport, frequently in romantic or exotic locales?

I am aware that people live longer these days, and that many are more physically active than their predecessors were. Maybe it's true, as some say, that middle age now ends at 70. For some, I suppose it does. But really, how many climb mountains, really big mountains, or surf or sky dive? And how many over 60 ride dirt bikes across the San Blas Islands or snorkel in the Galapagos? Enough, it seems, so that the editors of magazines and books directed at seniors feel free to bring them forth as models for the rest of us.

Seniors certainly get a lot of attention in this youth- obsessed society. This would seem paradoxical, until you consider how many there are: more than 56 million over 55 years old, and that largest generation ever, the "baby boomers," are coming up behind. We constitute a sizable market by any measure.

And the obsession mentioned here is not of youth with itself, which is eternal and natural. The obsession is that which grips so many in the generation now poised on the edge of the so-called third age of life, the "boomers." They seem determined to keep alive their idea of what youth means to them. But their conception of a graceful old age is simply a continuation of the way things were when they were young: touch football; the laughing, slow-motion collapse in the grass; or driveway basketball in the suburbs, mano a mano, life as lived in television commercials.

But this is not entirely their fault. Something else is at play here. It is the failure on all sides to find an objective description of how life is lived by older Americans, something more in tune with our actual circumstances: positive, of course; alert to the falsity of fashion, but not despairing or withdrawn; active, but not breakneck. Is that so difficult?

Yes, I'm afraid it is. I have been trying for years to muster the language to do so, with little success. …

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