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There used to be a finish line before mortality: a long victory lap for those lucky (and/or diligent) in health. After the children have left, after working to earn a living, before infirmity: It was called “The Golden Years”.
That term has evaporated from our culture.
Pensions had a brief Hay Day of surety in the Greatest Generation: you could cash checks you earned decades ago while touring in an RV today. In the time when most people were dead before they were eligible for Social Security it looked like a pretty sure thing for the living. Before companies became engines of investment independent of utility or genius, corporations looked as solid as our government.
A great 1960’s movie, “The President’s Analyst” starring James Coburn even postured the single monopoly virtually Every Grestest Generation Household used, AT&T, was The Government. The Mad Men/white male/Greatest Generation culture was so ossified that their children went nuts trying to derail it. It kinda worked.
Gone is the assuredness of life-long useful job skills that leverage confidence in the meaning of work, wages and retirement – hopefully meaning “The Golden Years” future. Technology extends our lives, encourages them them to be brain dead, and has unmercifully beaten to death every reasonable expectation that was legitimate 20 years ago.
“The Golden Years” are now just a memory of our parents’ expectations. In its place is the bubble of 20 years extra time on earth not smoking and eating crap: an entire generation.
But fewer and fewer want to get married or even declare commitment sufficient to spawn until it’s almost too late – and once again, technology rewrites biological basics so 50 year olds can have healthy babies and be viable parents into their 90’s simulating the bonding time of the Greatest Generation had with the Baby Boomers. So there is no new Great Grand Child/Parent Generation – just really old parents and even older grandparents.
Supplanting “The Golden Years” we have “Flex Time”: your age has almost no cultural norms applied to it: you can have 6 “careers”, no “pension” 3 or 4 spousal equivalents in endless “blending” of family trees so hideously interwoven and attenuated that it will soon make Ancestry.Com lurch into a Fugue State Overload.
We Boomers have won: “DOWN WITH THE ESTABLISHMENT!” was the cry, and pretty much everything established by our parents has been disestablished.
It’s Flex Time In America: in some ways a good thing: The nightmare stereotypes are at least seen as Evil and fewer law-supported prejudices remain: but there is precious little left in terms of any type of Ground Rules that could support even a hint of a predictable cultural outcome in the next decade.
So everyone copes. Humans find happiness in the faith that these bizarrities are the roiling surface of a deeper truth of human goodness and love. Religious or not, we believe that kindness, mercy and justice are good. Unfortunately the life product of those values were embodied in vaporized possibility for “The Golden Years” as an end point.
In times like Lent (times like the period after football season and before March Madness) it’s not a bad idea to see where my “Flex Time” is leading. Our lives may not be leading to a future that valued a 20 year vacation before our bodies changed the channel to life extension, but if we ever believed in warranteed expectations it denied every other aspect of the natural world, where life ends with a cold wave or or preditor or virus.
The only expectation I truly have is that the Grace that carried me this far, that has given me everything, will be there in Flex Time…