|aby boomers are aging. In 1965 they were singing along to The Who’s song “My Generation,” with its line “I hope I die before I get old.” It’s almost too late.
A milestone year for boomers (born from 1946 to 1961) arrived in 2006. The first of them—former U.S. president Bill Clinton among them—turned 60. Not even the attempt to call 60 the new 40 changes the aging process.
What next, Boomer?
This is a generation—my generation—that challenged society on a myriad of fronts. We were out to change the world. We marched in political protests, openly brought sex out of the bedroom and marriage, and challenged authority.
Individually, though, we soon settled into a lifestyle remarkably similar to that of our parents—the job, the marriage, the mortgage. Yet, unlike our parents, we live with a certain restlessness. We change jobs regularly, our divorce rate is much higher, and our personal debt has skyrocketed.
Now we head toward retirement. We’re the healthiest and, overall, the wealthiest generation to get this close to retirement (with some already retired). This means we get to do more than sit in a rocking chair on the front porch awaiting the Grim Reaper.
Let’s talk about death.
For residents of the United States, the opportunity to retire with a pension came in 1935 when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act with benefits to people over the age of 65.
But people are now living longer. In the U.S., with an average life expectancy of 49 years at the beginning of the twentieth century, receiving the pension at 65 in 1935 was
a reward for survival. By the end of the century the pension was no longer a reward for the few, but an expectation of the majority. The average life expectancy had risen to 77 years. No wonder more people are working beyond retirement age.
Here’s the deal: We boomers are fitter for longer and, if the Second Coming is delayed and we retire at 65, there are still quite a few years before we fall off the perch.
So retirement comes. What next, Boomer?
Boomers have been called the most selfish generation ever. Unfortunately, there’s some truth in the accusation. It’s a truth that’s reinforced every time a boomer says their main aim in life is to spend their kids’ inheritance.
Life that’s centered on me is a pretty shallow experience. What will we do for society before we shuffle off the “mortal coil” (Shakespeare)? What will we do for God before entering “that dreamless sleep” (Byron)?
There’s so much potential in the collective boomer
wisdom and skill for good—if we choose to use it that way.
Then, coming out of the fact that as each generation ages religion becomes more attractive, this comment by Bernard Salt is a challenge: “Could it be that boomers, confronted by the shock realization that they are mortal, are now reviewing their contract with God and are reconsidering their position?”*
If you grew up an Adventist boomer you’ll know sev-
eral, maybe several dozen, former Adventists and former Christians. How will they react to the realization of their mortality? Will they reconsider the faith of their earlier years? How can we help them in their spiritual quest?
So, what next, Boomer?
Sixty is not the new 40, even if we boomers will be the healthiest 60-year-olds since the patriarchs. What 60 is, is a reminder that we’re aging.
This is not about aging and death, though; it’s about life. We’ve been given more of it. Every extra day is a gift, a gift from God.
We still have a chance to make a difference before we “all just f-f-fade away” (The Who, again). Perhaps we can change the world, after all, or at least someone’s world—for good and for God.
Our chance starts . . . now!
*Bernard Salt, The Big Picture: Life, Work and Relationships in the 21st Century (Prahran, Victoria, Australia: Hardie Grant Books, 2006), p. 48.
Bruce Manners is pastor of the Avondale College Church in Coorangbon, New South Wales, Australia