Spitting in the wind:
Whatever Happened to ___?
“We used to look more sober and serene. People speak without the modulation I grew up on. And so much faster. These ordinary things about living now are stranger than moon walks or cell phones.”3
“It drives me nuts to hear a grown man speak “uptalk.” It sounds so, well, girly. Can you imagine General Patton saying “Charge?” If my husband-to-be had affirmed his marriage vows with “I do?” I would have followed with “I don’t”!4
One of the hardest things about getting old is living amongst, well, aliens. Not the kind from outer space but the strangers—often beloved strangers—who are native to the culture of America in 2016. (If you are 70 you are almost certainly not one of these “natives”, and if you are 30 I am pretty confident you are.)
There’s nothing new about this. Thomas Jefferson in 1825 and Mark Twain in 1910 both wrote of the isolation brought on by having “living beyond their century.” However, the disorientation they experienced was one of living through challenges to long-established values. While those old normative values were under assault they had not yet been defeated and replaced, as they have now. (No? Ask yourself this: when was the last time you saw a running back quietly toss the ball to the referee after scoring a touchdown?)
In a future column I’ll share some “serious” reflections about America’s new “normal” culture, but today I thought readers might welcome a somewhat lighter tone. (And I specifically promised Lottie no politics this time so all I’ll say about the recent election is how tempting it was to write in a decent bumbler like Ford, Carter or Bush 41.)
Anyhow, today’s theme is whatever happened to _____ (fill in the blank)? So, here goes.
Whatever happened to “Mr.” and “Mrs.”, or for heaven’s sake, even “Ms.”? As in, “Hello, Mr. Norwine, I am calling to ask you to contribute to People for Horizontal Lampposts!” Heck, I might even have donated a dollar or two. But no. What I hear now is this: “Hey, James, how you doin’? If you answer a few questions we will send you to Branson and throw in a free package of Depends!” My response: Click. The kid doesn’t know me from Adam but I can imagine him or her turning to somebody nearby at the call center to say, Hey, another one of these geezers disrespected me by hanging up! (“Disrespected?!” Sigh.)
Next, whatever happened to romance? Be honest, you fellow oldsters, don’t you hate “having sex”? (Hummm, maybe that didn’t come out just right. I mean the phrase.) Okay, maybe we were innocent when we spoke of “making love”, but “having sex”?! What a truly awful expression. It sounds so instrumental, as though we were talking about robots. Where are the feelings? But then I suppose that’s the idea, isn’t it? Much easier in a culture of anything-goes choice to settle for a bit of momentary pleasure and then “move on.”
(“Move on.” There’s another favorite of the new culture that makes my teeth grit. Nobody who really cares about something or, especially, someone, ever really moves on from their loss. Nor should they.)
And then, whatever happened to elderly, I mean, the “e-word”? Are Martians kidnapping them for some kind of terrible experiments involving, I don’t know, iced tea and bathroom visits?
Not really. We’re still out there somewhere. Just watch the tv commercials during any newscast: you can be sure those ads for Preparation H are not aimed at Generation X.
You may ask, is it really so bad for those of us in our mid-70s to call ourselves “middle aged”? Maybe not if we do so sort of tongue in cheek and as a way to keep ourselves engaged in life and with others. But as far as living to be 150 along with some trees and tortoises and forest-floor fungi, we are not members of that club.
I worry our denial5 of being elderly means that we have been infected by the adolescent culture that desperately needs us to be modeling the wisdom of graceful gratitude for this final phase of our earthly existence.
Just space for one more: remember sin? Whatever happened to it? Oh, yeah, right: silly me. Who needs sin now that we have “issues…”
Till next time, blessings and Memento mori3
1. From Leszek Kolakowski’s wonderful book of the same name.
3. Memento mori—“remember you must die”—was to ancient and medieval thinkers a reminder to seek your true heart’s desire, i.e., the highest, most permanent, things.
3. Judith Anderson, Empire Under Glass, 1996.
4. Anonymous email from a lady reader.
5. Did I actually use “denial”?! I apologize, but you see how infectious these awful new-America expressions are.
6. Texas A&M System regents professor emeritus, now living with Lottie, his wife of 50 years, on Oologah Lake. Zophar (one of Biblical Job’s blowhard neighbors) Boanerges (“windbag”, the name Jesus gave James and John, the sons of Zebedee) is Jim’s pen name. Send comments and questions to email@example.com