FACE IT: When 74 Is The New 74
By Michele Willens
I am sure many Boomers have felt the same conflicting emotions I do when watching Bernie Sanders. First, there is amazement that someone of 74 has such vigor and stamina. Then there is concern that he will fall off a stage, forget what town he is in, or doze off at the podium. Finally, comes confusion: Is he a committed and energetic symbol we hope to emulate, or the cranky old person we fear becoming?
What is undeniably refreshing about Sanders is that he seems not the least bit vain or embarrassed about how he is perceived. Perhaps it's because he came from the generation just ahead, before Dylan told us we'd be forever young. Meanwhile, we can't figure out whether to stand tall and go gray, or fight aging as we once fought for things we could actually change.
Why is it that those of a certain (if slightly lesser) age are so uncomfortable when the candidate's arms start waving and the words start pouring? Either we choose not to be reminded of how we may one day look, or are attaching our own daily fears onto the poor guy. Knowing how we feel by mid-afternoon, just thinking about all the planes and speeches and town halls and debates, is exhausting. Knowing how we rely on Google to recall the name of that guy in that movie, the idea of remembering every questioner's name is unimaginable. Forget about losing a primary: what's more remarkable is how Bernie never even loses his balance.
Of course, while his behavior and appearance make many nervous, our sons and daughters are feelin' the Bern. They say it is his authenticity, his fervor, his SuperPaclessness. This is not entirely surprising as they also find Larry David (who plays Sanders on TV) cool in his irascible spot-on observations. The truth is, our children, more than their obsessively denying parents, still see senior citizens as worthwhile. They judge us less harshly than we judge ourselves.
While he is only five years older than Trump and Hillary, Bernie Sanders, let's face it, looks his age. Though what does that even mean anymore? People have turned 70 and 80 and 90 before, but never as often or in such wildly different variations. When we were growing up, people were children or grownups, and then they were just old. I remember my grandfathers as looking, acting, and even scolding like Bernie Sanders. (They died in their 60s.) Now, one number can mean so many things.
Some of this I confess with shame. When my 45th high school reunion was approaching, two women from my class, who were organizing the event, came to my home. When they left, I asked my son -- with real trepidation -- if we appeared to be the same age. "You look like their daughter," he said, and I sighed great relief. Then, I realized, of course, that's how I would look if I didn't dye my hair, work out regularly, and visit the dermatologist too often. My smugness dissipated a bit as I considered the less stressed-out lives those two women lead.
Likewise, I regularly visit my sharp and engaged 91-year-old aunt in her retirement home. I notice all the walkers and hearing aids and pledge "never for me." Yet my aunt insists she has befriended similar versions of 91, enjoying, as she says "a great final act." I see 81-year-olds who look and act it, and need to remind myself of my friend Arnold, who remarried last year at 80 and is having his first musical produced.
Bernie Sanders is caught in a winless web that has nothing to do with politics. He has turned on the young but is frightening the un-young. He is not the new 64 and I doubt he wants to be. While it might be great if he personified our vision of 74, perhaps we should relax, and join the kids who, as usual, just may be all right.