Michael Kinsley is an author, columnist and editor. He has just published a little book, well reviewed by the way, entitled “Old Age: A Beginners Guide”.( Tim Duggan Books. 2016) I finished reading it the other day on a flight. Kinsley raises some interesting issues as he begins his Boomer passage, a passage accompanied by his Parkinsons Disease, a disease which colors his approach to his own aging. He writes of the cultural baggage Boomers have as we enter elder hood, that we have seemed to come through life striving to do more and be more. This “competition” he says, now extends even to longevity, as Boomers seek ways to live longer and better, in some fantasy that in doing so, we may cheat death. Yet, he also realizes that the other issue that haunts our generation, one gleaned from our caring for aging parents perhaps, is the desire to avoid dementia or Alzheimer’s. He posits the question of choice as we age: “Is it simply long life that you covet, or is it long life with all your marbles? Isn’t the final boomer game really competitive cognition? The rules of competitive cognition are simple. The winners are whoever dies with more of their marbles”. (page 84,85)
I was intrigued by the phrase competitive cognition and Kinsley’s other phrase of “competitive longevity”. These phrases seem to encapsulate a sense of our generation’s desire to control aspects of our life, even now how we die. Kinsley’s “take” on our generation’s choices reminded me of a conversation I had with one of the leaders in the contemporary aging world, Dr. Thomas Cole, who is the Director of the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics at University of Texas Medical Center in Houston. Cole was speaking on a recent edition of Boomer Generation Radio show, which I host, (see pod cast with Dr Cole from May 3, 2016. Pod cast on this web site under Boomer Generation Radio). Cole remarked that aging “a mystery, and mysteries require choosing a meaningful response, and responses are subjective, based on culture and relationships”.
The linkage, for me, between Kinsley’s “competitions” and Cole’s idea of mystery seem to revolve around how we choose to see our life. This is, as we all know, not easy and is reflective of many variables. But, Boomers seem to understand that we have the ability to make informed choices regarding our life, how we live it and even, yes, how that life ends. Maybe the real competition is with our own soul?
Rabbi Richard F Address