Monday, March 22, 2010

Getting There

Back in 1969, I celebrated my 21st birthday by registering to vote (which in those days one had to be 21 to do). This year, I expect to mark my 62nd birthday later this week by, for the first time, paying the senior rate for an Amtrak ticket!
In its own way each of these rituals marks a major milestone in life. Voting is the basic form of participation by adult citizens in our political process, and 21 was traditionally the recognized age of adulthood. Of course, achieving adulthood has always been much more of a process, marked by many moments and rituals – going away to college, getting one’s first real job, being drafted into the military, and getting married and starting a family. Likewise, becoming what our society calls a “senior citizen” similarly has several starting points, the principal one probably being turning 65 and qualifying for social security and Medicare. Some movie theaters, however, admit one at a senior rate already at age 60. (In a city, where $9.00 for a movie is considered a bargain, this is no small matter!)
Like becoming an adult, becoming a “senior” seems to be a process, marked by significant steps. Whereas the earlier process of becoming an "adult" was marked by increasing levels of responsibility, however, the process of becoming a “senior” seems to be characterized more by increasing entitlements. (Whether this arrangement is “just” and how beneficial it may actually be for society are important, if complex, questions, which certainly need to be addressed in our current society, but which I am not certainly not presently prepared to try to answer – at least not here, at least not today).
In any event, getting there - surviving to 62 – seems to me to be a big thing. After all, most people who have ever lived probably didn’t manage to make it this far. If nothing else, that seems like something one ought to be very grateful for. So, whatever else there may be to be said on the subject of getting older (and I think there is actually a lot of good stuff to be said about it), my first reaction to the experience is one of sheer overwhelming gratitude. It’s been a rocky ride at times, but it has been a great gift.

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