Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Futility of a Worldly Life Nearing the Finish Line

The 20th century saw the overthrow of the traditional Christian view of existence in the Western World. This phenomenon was best personified in the generation known as the Baby Boomers, who embraced the materialism and selfism of their time more than any generation before or since, but can also be seen by older "children" of the 20th century, even at absurd ages of 80 and above.

It is no surprise that modern Americans are not aging gracefully. The desperation and emptiness of their worldliness comes more and more in focus with every step they take closer to the grave.

Antics such as this are as sad as they are revealing:

An 80-year-old woman on a tandem skydive slipped from her instructor’s harness then held on for life while rocketing toward Earth. An Alabama man busted his ankles trying to ride a bull. A Missouri man smashed his body – and his new motorcycle – minutes after buying the bike.
All were attempting items on their “bucket lists,” those rare experiences that people – particularly Baby Boomers (folks 49 years old and up) – ache to taste before kicking the bucket. But as injuries and close calls from these sacred agendas mount, some emergency workers want the bucket-listers to tone down their chosen adventures – or at least better prepare for such feats.

The startling lack of dignity seems to be lost on these folks, who believe experiencing perceived thrills they have "missed out on" up to this point will somehow make their lives complete:

To celebrate her 80th birthday and notch her bucket list, Laverne Everett went tandem skydivingtwo years ago above Lodi, Calif. After she paused in fear while perched in the plane’s hatch, she went airborne but partially slipped out of her partner’s harness. A fellow jumper filmed the plunge and the video went viral.
“I had watched watched people jump, and it looked like such fun, just sailing in real smooth, you know? It didn’t work out that way,” Everett, 82, said in a phone interview Thursday. “[My partner] kept telling me: ‘Hold on! Hold on!’ That’s where my mind was, just holding on. He was just holding me. I was just barely holding on with my legs.
“I couldn’t see anything. My clothes were rolled up over my face. There was pinhole of light, that’s all I had. So I didn’t know what was what. I’m very thankful I didn’t know,” added Everett, who suffered some “doozy bruises” and a scraped knee when she landed otherwise intact after their chute opened.

It's a warped sense of the purpose of living, almost as if life itself was a can of soda, something sugary and sweet to be downed with a flourish and the can crushed and thrown away. All the usual signs of our Western decline are in evidence here: self-absorption, identity tourism and a lack of consideration for how individual actions will affect others:

“A lot of people identify with the concept of: Geez, I haven’t done this in my life and I’m willing to take the risk. That’s really the guts of this thing. If you look at the movie which the term came from, it gets at: I’m close enough to the end and I’m making the active choice,” Carl Foster, director of the human performance laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, Lacrosse, said.
“By the same token, the people who have to take care of them, who have to bail them out of bad situations, probably wish they prepared or had thought better of it.”

Those who would see something life-affirming in reckless and inappropriate behavior such as this might not understand how such a mindset goes hand-in-hand with this:

It has long held true that elderly people have higher suicide rates than the overall population. But numbers released in May by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show a dramatic spike in suicides among middle-aged people, with the highest increases among men in their 50s, whose rate went up by nearly 50 per cent to 30 per 100,000; and women in their early 60s, whose rate rose by nearly 60 per cent (though it is still relatively low compared with men, at 7 in 100,000).

When you define your life by the fun quotient of your "experiences" you will eventually do the math and realize that your ability to have such "experiences" inevitably declines with age. So, for those no longer able to work on that "bucket list" anymore, there is only one thing left to do: kick that bucket and be done with it.

There are no large-scale studies yet fleshing out the reasons behind the increase in boomer suicides. Part of it is likely tied to the recent economic downturn — financial recessions are in general associated with an uptick in suicides.
But the trend started a decade before the 2008 recession, and psychologists and academics say it likely stems from a complex matrix of issues particular to a generation that vowed not to trust anyone older than 30 and who rocked out to lyrics such as, “I hope I die before I get old.”
“We’ve been a pretty youth-oriented generation,” said Bob Knight, professor of gerontology and psychology at the University of Southern California, who is also a baby boomer. “We haven’t idealized growing up and getting mature in the same way that other cohorts have.”

We have a significantly large generation of older Americans approaching its elderly years which has never "idealized growing up and getting mature" and the results are not going to be pretty.

But when your whole sense of personal meaning comes from the ability to engage in earthly endeavors, this type of attitude is inevitable. We have the generation that mocked traditional religious faith nearing the end and finding nothing at the finishing line. If only our aging modern Americans had not tried so hard to squeeze out all that life-defining "experience" and opened themselves up to something greater than the self-limiting pursuit of individual happiness.

For there's been far too much of this in our culture for the past 100 years or so:

Among the 65 monasteries of fellow cloistered Carmelites around the country, the Brooklyn nuns are sometimes regarded as relics or worse because of their stubborn resistance to change. While reluctant to criticize on the record, several Carmelites interviewed recently said they believed such seclusion and self-denial is unhealthy and unnecessary to keep up a life of prayer. "Some of us say that this 20th century has enough of its own kinds of hairshirts," said Mother Joseph, prioress of a convent in Terre Haute, Ind., that has a fax and a station wagon.

... and not enough of this:

But the nuns' supporters believe prayer is being forgotten in the Catholic Church, and the way to restore its importance and rejuvenate shrinking religious orders is to return to the old ways. "People give me arguments about this, say those nuns are in there wasting their time, but I say that they're in there working," said Pete Brennan, a retired banker who is part of an association of former neighborhood residents who raise money for the monastery. "Prayer is hard work."
Echoing Monsignor Guy J. Puglisi -- [the priest who visits the nuns six days a week] who is fond of saying, "People don't know how powerful a place that monastery is" -- a priest from nearby St. Teresa's Church wrote of the nuns in the summer of 1942: "That which saves society is not that which can be seen upon the surface of things. It is not the power of industry, of war, of genius, of letters or arts. It is what touches its depths in a silence called the silence of good things."

Those who were mocked for "wasting their lives" are approaching the finish line with a dignity and serenity completely lacking in those who were so busy seeking out all that "fulfillment" in their precious worldly "experiences." Perhaps a pursuit of such serenity would be the very best thing to put on a "bucket list" after all. It's never too late to search for and the personal journey one must undertake to find it can be a powerful human experience in and of itself.

1 comment: