Snow White: Pretty girl, ear-piercing soprano, hangs out with seven height-challenged guys because she’s hiding from…
Evil Queen: Snow White’s stepmother. Pretty in a Norma Desmond way, dramatic eyeliner, definitely spends a lot of time at department store makeup counters. Obsessed with her appearance, Evil is jealous of Snow White’s beauty. Consults with a magic mirror on a regular basis to determine if she’s “the fairest of them all.” Decides to kill Snow when the mirror tells her Snow has taken the “fairest” title from her.
But what if the Evil Queen had tossed out her magic mirror? What if she had decided it was time to stop seeking validation from the ghostly figure in the glass? Maybe she and Snow could have reconciled, gone to Panera Bread for lunch and checked out the new arrivals at T.J. Maxx. Maybe, just maybe, Snow could have convinced stepmom to let her beauty shine through with a more natural look. And maybe those seven little guys could have learned to take care of themselves.
Now that’s a fairy tale.
I was out running errands yesterday and stopped by the vitamin store to pick up some supplements. As I checked out I picked up a complimentary copy of a health and fitness magazine. The cover featured your typical goddess, the kind of girl you run into all the time---not. Silky long blonde hair, flawless skin and a Barbie body, only with more muscles.
“I’ll look like this in a week and a half,” I told the cashier. She laughed and said, “Well, let me know how you do it.”
We started talking about getting older, and the fact that looking like Miss Fitness is beyond our reach at this point, barring the creation of cyborg bodies capable of housing human consciousness. “I look at old pictures of myself and wonder what happened,” the cashier said, and I nodded with understanding.
To head off a plunge into despair for both of us I pointed out that growing older is better than the alternative. I quoted the rock and roll motto---“Live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse,”--- and said I’d rather die old, wrinkled, and totally used up. That seemed to cheer her a bit and I went on my way.
However, that brief conversation kept rolling around in my brain. Before long my thoughts turned from complaining about the loss of youth to wondering if some of us have lost our way. I returned to an article I had clipped from the June 4, 2013 edition of The Washington Post: “Why the sharp rise in suicides by baby boomers?” (Just to be clear, the term “baby boomer” is used to describe someone born between 1946 and 1964.)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the rate of suicides by men between 35 and 64 went up 27.3% between 1999 and 2010, with suicides by women going up 31.5% for that same period. The likelihood of suicide rises by age, with an increase in suicide rate of over 50% for men between 55 and 59 and nearly 60% for women ages 60 to 64. To see the full CDC report go here: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6217a1.htm
The article’s author, Tara Bahrampour, talked to a man who survived his suicide attempt, a variety of experts and loved ones left behind. Only one question matters: Why?
Ms. Bahrampour uncovered a number of answers, but here’s what I took away from her story:
- · Boomers are spoiled. We had no world wars or depressions to toughen us up and a lot of time to contemplate. Ms. Bahrampour writes that boomers “have struggled more with existential questions of purpose and meaning. Growing up in a post-Freudian society, they were raised with a new vocabulary of emotional awareness and an emphasis on self-actualization.” There’s plenty of time for “existential questions” when you’re not struggling to exist.
- · Boomers expect the good times to keep coming. Barry Jacobs, director of behavioral sciences at the Crozer-Keystone Family Medicine Residency Program in Pennsylvania, puts it this way: “There was an illusion of choice---where people thought they’d be able to re-create themselves again and again. These people feel a greater sense of disappointment because their expectations of leading glorious lives didn’t come to fruition.”
- · Boomers didn’t plan on getting old. Fellow boomer Bob Knight, professor of gerontology and psychology at the University of Southern California, describes our generation as “pretty youth-oriented.” He adds that “We haven’t idealized growing up and getting mature in the same way that other cohorts have.” Take that perspective and throw in the advertisements for exercise equipment, diet plans and cosmetic surgery and you’ve got a volatile mixture. (Is anyone else tired of the “You Light Up My Life” facelift commercial?)
Yes, this is grim stuff, but stay with me for a bit longer. Lest you think all Boomers are glued to their recliners, grumbling about what might have been, meet Gary and Judy Kopff. (“Send in the Kopffs” by Rachel S. Karas, The Washington Post, June 10, 2013) The Kopffs tried for years to become parents, but when that dream was denied they turned their attention to helping others. How? By clowning around.
Judy puts on her three-foot-tall balloon hat, Gary dons his red-white-and-blue Dr. Seuss hat, and they visit fundraisers, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and wherever smiles are in short supply. Although the going rate for professional clowns can climb to $400 per hour, the Kopffs never charge a dime.
Ms. Karas describes the Kopffs’ motivation: “They do it for the 85-year-old blind woman who smiled upon touching a balloon animal. They do it for the veteran who broke into tears after hearing a balloon pop because his post-traumatic stress disorder triggered memories of exploding bombs. He asked for another balloon, determined to overcome his fear and give his child a life with balloons. And they do it for the autistic boy who smiled all day, his father said, after Judy twisted a balloon for him at the Pentagon.”
Gary and Judy Kopff could have kept staring into the mirror, dwelling on the children they’d never have and cultivating despair. Instead, they turned their attention outward and chose to help others in pain.
I’m an optimist; I’ve always believed that life follows an upward curve, each valley followed by a higher mountain. As I age I have to accept that the terrain ahead will contain more valleys and the mountains that follow will slowly change into rolling hills.
So what’s a Boomer to do? I’ll continue to use mirrors; we’ve all witnessed the unfortunate choices made by those who apparently do not have the means to see their reflections. But I won’t linger before the looking glass. I’ll ask God to help me make the most of whatever each day offers. I’m a project decades in the making---I’ll continue to share myself with an unsuspecting world.