Pascal Bruckner writes in City Journal,
We have seen the rise of a new category: “seniors,” a Latin term recovered to capture those who are graying but active, in good physical condition and often financially better off than the rest of the population. This is the time when many, having raised their children and completed their conjugal duties, divorce or remarry, dreaming of a new spring in the autumn. In other words, there is no longer one time of old age but several, and the only one now where the word really fits is immediately before death. This reprieve brings with it both passion and anxiety. What are we to do with these 20 or 30 extra years? The time available shrinks and the possibilities become more limited, but there can still be discovery, surprises, shattering loves.
At least two models are available in our individualistic society: either we rediscover at 60 the dreams of adolescence; or we decide that the game is basically up and join the folks playing bingo while waiting for their soup. On one side, we see the tribe of retired people on vitamin supplements, often in good physical shape. They usually belong to the upper middle class or are rich; they want to sink their teeth into life and display fierce energy at a time when their predecessors were often senile or bedridden. On the other side, we see faded people, resigned to their fate and determined to withdraw from the tumult.
The emergence of Viagra, along with hormonal treatments for women, offers intoxicating powers to people in their sixties. This has unsettled relations between the sexes, often accentuating the subordination of women. How many aging spouses are separated when one of them, breaking the truce of abstinence, rediscovers a taste for sexual adventure? It’s worth noting that the two great ages of divorce in Europe are between 20 and 30 and between 50 and 70: in the first, young couples, married too soon, break up after discovering their incompatibility; in the second, older spouses take off on a new adventure, unhindered by the fact that their standard of living may fall or that they might end up alone. Freedom and the wish once again to control their own destinies take precedence over the risks involved.
…Dying, alas, is not something we need to learn; it happens without our help, except in the case of suicide. Nothing prepares us for death: even the most austere ascetic and the most ardent believer are surprised when the Reaper comes for them. What matters, perhaps, is not to learn to die but not to die while one is still alive—not to become a zombie, going through the motions of daily life, without soul or vitality. What matters is to be alive until the last day.
…Illness is indeed the cost of longevity, and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s strike mostly people over 65. To age is also to put up with some pains that cannot be healed but that at least can be contained by medications. We submit to repairs, piece by piece, like an old sedan that breaks down every 100 miles but that runs again after an overhaul. Age, despite the illnesses that threaten the faltering body, is no longer a verdict, no longer the threshold beyond which a person is obsolete. Now a person can modify his fate up to the last moment.
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