In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye the milkman in Anatevka declares, “It’s no shame to be poor. But it’s no great honor, either.” In America, however, poverty often is viewed as shameful. And poor or rich, so is growing older. The old—however you define them/us—are made irrelevant. Popular culture offers many examples. Of late, three caught my eye.
— In a TV commercial for Captain Morgan Rum set in a 17th-century Caribbean palace, a beautiful twenty-something woman dances at a formal reception with an older, bewigged and obviously lecherous man. Her face expresses disgust. His age definitely is a factor. He’s way too old—and way not cool. A dashing young Captain Morgan rescues her and takes her down to the basement and a hip party.
— A Samsung TV spot features young adults lined up for an Apple iPhone 5. One young man, a Samsung user, holds a spot in line. His parents show up to claim it. Dismay and revulsion sweep across the young people’s faces. How can an iPhone have any real worth if people fifty or older use it?
— In the last episode of the first TV season of Louie, the Emmy-winning comedian Louis C.K. hangs out with younger Black comics, who easily pick up three beautiful women. The women learn that Louis is forty—forty-two, he confesses. Their faces express horror. Louis has no shot. Wonderfully, the episode ends with Louis and his two young daughters enjoying a pancake breakfast at four in the morning. Yes, it’s late. Or early. But Louis has his priorities straight.
When I was in my teens and twenties, I too believed that my parents thought and acted old. They couldn’t possibly know what really mattered because I was in the process of discovering just what was and wasn’t important as defined by my generation. They’d lost touch—if they’d ever been in touch. In my thirties and a parent myself, I saw my parents as much more human. Wherever I was going in terms of the basic aspects of life—making a living, caring for a family, finding a place in society—I realized they’d blazed a trail before me.
I love the energy of youth. I had it once. But growing older generally means transitioning to a more settled life. I can’t stay out until three in the morning. I’m beat the next day if I’m up until midnight. Yet age often brings more wisdom and self-awareness. Not to mention humility. Having gone around the block a few times, we have fewer answers and more questions.
I was a much happier, more grounded person at fifty than at twenty. I’ve even made more progress towards becoming a reasonable human being in the eighteen years since I hit the half-century mark. No question, I still retain many weaknesses. Some I’ll never overcome. To a degree, I’ve learned how to cope. But I don’t delude myself that I’ll ever become a model for humanity. And I don’t worry about it. That’s the gift of growing older.
I certainly don’t encourage the young to embrace old age. There will be time for that. But I do encourage them to embrace their elders. And there’s no time like now.
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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and a coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at email@example.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.