Tuesday, November 28, 2006

For AARPers about to Rock (We Salute You)

How else should an organization for retirees recruit the baby boomers—the first of whom began to turn 60 this year—than by affecting the spirit of Rock and Roll?

The NY Times ran a big feature on Sunday on the AARP’s efforts to become cool for a generation that has spent its entire adulthood pining for the halcyon days of youth. (Link goes to the Herald Tribune, because of the NYT’s annoying habit of charging for access.)

The key to the AARP’s strategy is partnering with musicians boomers love, like James Taylor. Next year they plan a broader music-recommendation website.

Here’s the best quote, from a 48-year old in Nashville:

"Our generation has always been a little revolutionary. We feel like we're in middle age. We're out bike riding, running businesses. Our kids are fully grown, and we're kind of footloose and fancy free."
There’s nothing revolutionary about the AARP. The American Association of Retired Persons is the biggest and most powerful lobbying group in America. It is a notoriously fierce and feared adversary for legislators.

I don’t think this woman is thinking of revolution in the Chairman Mao sense – she’s thinking of Woodstock and love-ins. She’s thinking of perpetual coolness. And she (probably rightly) thinks that AARP membership would seriously undermine her cool.

The problem is that she seems to connect cool with youthfulness, like riding bikes and being footloose. So her resistance to AARP membership lies more in her denial of the sands of time than in any doubts about AARP’s status as revolutionary. It’s old age itself that she hates the thought of.

And that’s a crying shame. We can’t stop time. Aging is central to the human experience. For years now we’ve heard about baby boomers’ impending reinvention of retirement, but even the most important generation in American history (not a value judgment; that’s a fair assessment) can’t reinvent something as basic as getting old and dying. Nope.

So the only life-giving answer is to come to terms with each new season in life, including the last season before death.

In my book I argue that the most meaningful reconciliation is with our own parents. As we younger adults assume our adult stations in life, we’re going to face a huge spiritual burden: reaching out and blessing elderly boomers devastated by the reality of old age. It will be a huge effort of compassion, and not condescension, on our part.

In our time we have the power to undo our culture’s contempt for the elderly, and we can start by loving those boomers too “revolutionary” to join the AARP.

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