22 April 2008

A MUST-READ for "boomers"

I have no illusions about why the people who visit this blog are here. You don't come for Enlightenment (and I seldom provide any). Most are here for the humorous 2-minute video, the funny cartoon, the esoteric fact they wouldn't otherwise ever see, the ephemera that entertain or puzzle or briefly enrage - and then people move on to other things, other websites, other activities.

This blog entry is about an article you should read if you're a Baby Boomer (if you don't know whether you're a Boomer... you're not. Skip this and go to the next blog entry).

Last month I was on a long car trip and heard an interview on (I think) NPR or BBC or somewhere else on the satellite radio. The interviewee was Michael Kinsley, whom I vaguely remembered from his appearances on Crossfire and various other media appearances. He was one of the founders of Slate, which I visit daily. The interview was prompted by the fact that Kinsley has written an essay in the New Yorker with some thoughts about "the meaning of life as we know it." It's a SUPERB piece of writing. Period.

Kinsley has a certain insight into the "boomer" mentality, sharply accentuated by the fact that at age 42 he developed Parkinson's disease. He sees Parkinson's as "an interesting foretaste of our shared future—a beginner’s guide to old age."

Herewith, some excerpts:
"...of all the gifts that life and luck can bestow—money, good looks, love, power—longevity is the one that people seem least reluctant to brag about. In fact, they routinely claim it as some sort of virtue—as if living to ninety were primarily the result of hard work or prayer, rather than good genes and never getting run over by a truck... Between what your parents gave you to start with—genetically or culturally or financially—and pure luck, you play a small role in determining how long you live. And even if you add a few years through your own initiative, by doing all the right things in terms of diet, exercise, sleep, vitamins, and so on, why is that to your moral credit?...

Ask yourself: what do you have now, and what do you covet, that you would not gladly trade for, say, five extra years?... To begin with, you’re still alive, which gives you a leg up. Or are the real winners in our youth-obsessed generation the boomers who died young, like John Belushi? Well, perhaps, but you’ve missed that boat. There may be glamour in dying in your early twenties. There is no glamour in dying in your late fifties...

The last boomer competition is not just about how long you live. It is also about how you die. This one is a “Mine is shorter than yours”: you want a death that is painless and quick. Even here there are choices. What is “quick”?... Sometimes I feel like a scout from my generation, sent out ahead to experience in my fifties what even the healthiest boomers are going to experience in their sixties, seventies, or eighties. There are far worse medical conditions than Parkinson’s and there are far worse cases of Parkinson’s than mine. But what I have, at the level I have it, is an interesting foretaste of our shared future—a beginner’s guide to old age... Many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease resemble those of aging: a trembling hand, a shuffling gait, swallowing—or forgetting to swallow, or having trouble swallowing—a bewildering variety of pills...

Decades before the nursing home, though, we all cross an invisible line. Most people realize this only in retrospect. If you have a chronic disease—even one that is slow-moving and non-fatal—you cross the line the moment you get the diagnosis. Suddenly, the future seems finite... As you enter adult life, values change and the deck is reshuffled. You get another chance, and maybe, if you’re lucky, the last laugh. But it isn’t the last laugh. The deck is shuffled again as you enter the last chapter. How long you live, how fast you age, whether you win or lose the cancer sweepstakes or the Parkinson’s bingo—all these have little to do with the factors that determined your success or failure in the previous round."

I encourage the Baby Boomers who visit this board not to use the excerpts above as a quick cop-out substitute - go to the original essay at THIS LINK and read it. I know we're all busy and have lots of things to do, and perhaps we consciously or subconsciously avoid pondering our own mortality and morbidity - but this is an excellent essay. Take 10 minutes. Read it.


  1. I think some of the people who visit this blog might do so because they possibly feel a sense of connection with the blogger - they might share certain opinions or may appreciate certain insights, or share a sense of humour. Not that this entails necessarily agreeing with everything you say, Stan (don't get me started on politics or we'd be here a month of Sundays: thank goodness I don't need to vote in the US - I have enough to deal with managing my frustration with Australian government, especially over the past years), but it's kind of a remote (possible one sided, yes) discourse on life, the universe, and ... well, everything (Um, what can I say ... "42", anyone?).
    Kinsley's essay was indeed thought-provoking and well worth the read. Thanks for this post, Stan.

  2. Some studies have reported a link between Parkinson's and pesticide exposure.

    I write a blog called The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide at http://boomersurvive-thriveguide.typepad.com.



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