In her breakthrough generational memoir, Boomer expert Carol Orsborn relates the ups and downs of a tumultuous year spent facing, busting, and ultimately triumphing over the stereotypes of growing old. Along the way, she nurtures a love-starved friend through a doomed affair with a younger man, wrestles with the meaning of an exploding fish, and regains her passion for life at the side of her squirrel-crazed dog, Lucky.
The message is as deep as it is engaging. In Carol’s own words, “Plummet into aging, stare mortality in the eye, surrender everything and what else is there left to fear? The way is perilous, danger on all sides. But we can be part of a generation no longer afraid of age. We are becoming, instead, a generation fierce with age.”
Excerpt from Fierce with Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn by Carol Orsborn, Ph.D. (Spring, 2013/Turner Publishing) Amazon.com link: http://tinyurl.com/c95f4rv
The Cost of Denial
For as many months as I can remember, I’d been wandering through a spiritual desert. There was my self-righteous anger, my vanity, my whining, and my self-pity. My jealousy of those who had not yet been spit out of their old roles and of those who had returned for a repeat performance, however sordid or brief. Then, too, there was the lack of courage with which to name my hopelessness. My own ingrained fears and prejudices about the aged.
I said earlier that I do not only want to grow older; like Sam Keen and Connie Goldman and all the other mentors I have encountered over the course of this year, I also fiercely want to grow more whole. But until my night in the lightning storm, I hadn’t fully understood what this would entail. For when integrity includes the confrontation and embrace of one’s own dark side—including the shadows of mortality—and views with disdain the centrality of one’s own pathos, this is also the willing ascent to despair.
If this is the key to accepting age as it truly is, neither romanticizing nor reviling growing old, no wonder so many of us prefer the relative comfort of denial. Given my history of breast cancer coupled with the one-by-one deaths of both Dan’s and my parents, I thought I’d made peace with mortality long ago. Apparently not, or at the very least, not to the degree of acceptance I’d hoped to have achieved by now. This is not necessarily a bad thing. As it turns out, a certain degree of denial is life-affirming. We do not, God forbid, want to live our lives in gothic morbidity. In fact, we not only want, but need to be able to call upon the comfort of living in the present moment, inspired forward to get up and go to work or make dinner for a friend or even, yes, find the strength and courage to take a dog squirrel hunting. But understand this, too. It is dangerous to us, both individually and as a generation, to confuse denial with any kind of shortcut to serenity, let alone the truth.
There is proof enough that ultimately, over-reliance upon denial enslaves us to become victims to the passing of time. Trapped, we find ourselves flailing at the surface of things, unwittingly whipped here and there by the deeper currents we do not even know have us in their grip.
The evidence is everywhere. You name it. Few in our generation are ready for it. Expecting to reap the rewards of the longevity bonus, we are a generation who has had better health and education than any cohort of adults in history. Yet raised in an ageist society that reveres youth and reviles age, we have been complicit in allowing denial to catch us unprepared. Too many of us trusted financial planners we shouldn’t have while neglecting to heed the warnings about the cost of long-term care. In search of eternal youth, we bought the expensive anti-aging cream and underwent the elected pain of the knife.
As a cohort with a history of righting injustice, we have yet to grapple adequately with
the economic challenges facing our country, to do everything within our power to ensure that not only we but our children will have a safety net to rely upon. Some of us have been foolishly counting on raking in big salaries forever, others are kidding ourselves with the hope that our children will be both able and willing to take care of us.
And, too, don’t we all know someone who hasn’t wanted to deal with the possibility
that down the road she might develop a health issue that will make her a prisoner of the second floor retirement dream condo she just sank her life savings into? And what about those amongst us who have thrown ourselves into second or third careers, who climb mountains and push ourselves beyond endurance without ever stopping to ask whether we are being driven by passion or by fear?
It is not a pretty thing to watch when one by one, myself, my friends, and associates are jolted awake by circumstances beyond our control. There is a price to be paid not only for having turned our backs on ultimate concerns, but also for the contingent avoidance of psychological, spiritual, and practical preparation for our inevitable confrontation with the frailty of the illusions in which we are so invested. When we do wake up, we are overcome with paralyzing anxiety about nearly everything.
The fact is that we can only be fully alive to the degree to which we are willing to become aware of the enormity of existence. In words inspired by Nietzsche: “To grow wise you must first learn to listen to the wild dogs barking in your cellar.”