As a filmmaker and video producer I’m always looking for the story at the heart of every subject. With regard to aging in America I’ve found a fatal flaw. There’s something missing. There’s a disconnection in the plot. I’ve heard experts talk about how Baby Boomers aren’t comfortable with getting older and how they struggle with retirement and refuse to let go of adulthood. They then go on to talk about the problems that could likely occur when this demographic reaches old age and needs to be cared for. What? It’s like the record skipped. There seems to be a few scene’s missing in this story (almost an entire act). What happens between the end of the adult paradigm (work, careers, parenting etc.) and eventual old age?
We’ve all read the headlines about the impending crisis of how and where the Baby Boom generation will be cared for as they age. Concerns over eventual overwhelming health care costs and diminished quality of life in outdated nursing homes are very real. These issues require bold new solutions and radical ideas but are secondary to the most profound issue facing “boomers” as they cross the threshold from adulthood into the 3rd phase of life. There is something missing. A key to living a full and purpose filled life.
Who are we when we transition out of our adult lives and careers? What can we look forward to in this new frontier of longevity? We struggle to drag our adult persona forward with us as we age only to find that many of those elements don’t fit us anymore. Our culture does not provide us with a functional image of who we can become as we take on the role of “senior” in our county (a title that is in great need of replacement). The media is filled with messages of denial. “All of the experts on TV are anti-aging gurus” says geriatrician Dr Bill Thomas. We are told to stay young, turn back the clock and never grow old as if growing older is something we should and could avoid. This is a false image created by a youth-centric culture that does not value the gifts of longevity.
The question of identity is put succinctly in the title to Connie Goldman’s book Who Am I Now That I’m Not Who I Was? We struggle with this time in our lives because we know we are moving away from something but we don’t have a clear view of what we might look forward to. There is a new identity yet to be forged by the generation most associated with cultural change. A realistic identity built on an authentic paradigm for the years after adulthood and pre-old age, a span that is growing exponentially. Within this new paradigm exists tremendous potential for growth, development, transformation and the cultivation of a lifetime of experience into wisdom and perspective. There is a unique opportunity for transformation not possible in earlier stages of life. In the words of Dr.Thomas “This is the greatest change in the life of a person since puberty and brings with it the opportunity to become new again.” What will be our true identity as we age? How can we explore our own knowledge and wisdom and join with others to bring valuable insights and perspective to a world in need?
The Whole Story
Denial and anti-aging messaging are the placeholders for the missing pieces in this script and we deserve to experience the complete story. As our focus has become limited to youth and productivity we have forgotten the valuable role of the elder in our homes and in our culture. If we choose to remove our blinders and address our fears of being older we can discover what it means to live our complete lives from beginning to end. Within this image we can develop a new role of elders in our society, a substantial role with unique gifts of great value. As we restore and refine the role of elder we will begin to find purpose and meaning in all parts and phases of our lives and clarity about who we are and who we can become as we age. With this clarity we will be free to dream of new options for living and then bring those dreams to fruition. I believe that with a new and authentic image of what life after adulthood can be the issues related to housing and healthcare will be effectively addressed and new opportunities for living will be created.
What will be our part in the development of this new stage of life? How will we take on the false messages of aging and replace them with images of living more authentically as we grow older? How can we serve the aging ‘boomer” population and their families more effectively and help them discover the many gifts of long life? As advocates for better aging how can we bring our professional expertise to the table in new ways and help forge a new image of what life can be after adulthood. Former NPR reporter and author Connie Goldman said, “It is a gift to live a long life…aging is an adventure!” New pathways to success could be found in being valuable guides on this journey as we explore the growing frontier of longevity. Here’s to an exciting and rewarding expedition! It’s going to make a terrific story!
- By David Carey
David Carey is a video producer with Show & Tell Group and filmmaker with The Aging Film Project.