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Easy Living and Ruination

July 2, 2018 (962 words)

Summertime and the living is easy, according to the lyricist Ira Gershwin. This is especially true for those lucky, early-retirement people, for whom life has unfolded in a most agreeable fashion.

Even if they haven’t exactly scaled the heights of success, their later years now find many of them in a happy valley of ease and comfort. The financial stress of earlier times has faded away. They no longer need to worry about covering the essentials. In fact, their primary concern these days boils down to which material desire they will choose to satisfy.

Their health is relatively good, all things considered. And they enjoy an unprecedented freedom of movement, able to travel to far-off ports of call at the drop of a hat. The world, albeit perhaps only on a very modest scale, is their oyster. So given such proportional largesse, the idea of “ruination” might be the furthest thought from such an individual’s mind.

Fair enough. To those who see their present state as the happiest of landings, despite the partisan political squabbles in the public square that never seem to subside, far be it from me to disturb your late-in-life equilibrium.

… doing more than basking in one’s good fortune

But our advancing age and agreeable circumstance could also lend itself to something more than simply luxuriating in one’s own good fortune at having survived the gauntlet. Letting a little mature reflection seep into the picture wouldn’t hurt.

Even though at times such reflection can sound an awful lot like good, old fashioned grousing. There is a breed of geezer who is given to looking over his shoulder and instinctively finding fault with how the world has changed while he has been in it.

And now that I am firmly ensconced in that crotchety demographic, I must admit to being less than thrilled with certain aspects of the passing, contemporary scene. Though I appreciate the financial breathing room fate has bestowed upon me at this time, as I too near the end of my working days.

For starters, isn’t it blatantly obvious to all of us by now that the overt sexualization of the culture has ruined the relationship between men and women? This was accomplished quite effortlessly in the name of pleasure and profit, and we willingly acquiesced as it was happening. Since, after all, what’s not to like about pleasure or profit?

… tackling the male half of the equation first

Men, to tackle that half of the equation first, have been quietly granted permission to forgo the respect that was once routinely extended to the fairer sex. We now overtly ogle any and all attractive females as exquisite “machines of voluptuousness,” to quote that well-known man of manners, the Marquis de Sade.

Granted, down through the ages it may have always been difficult for males to view females as anything other than sexual “objects,” but we at least attempted to maintain a semblance of decorum. Just as forsaking all others within the covenant of marriage has always been a supreme challenge for many of us, right from the jump, but we nevertheless managed to mind our p’s and q’s.

Now, though, under the banner of sexual liberation the giving in to our every sexual impulse without hesitation or restraint has somehow been reinterpreted as being a positive character trait, as a mark of healthy psychological development, and a measure of sophistication and independent-mindedness.

In another vein, isn’t it also obvious that the technological seduction of our youth has ruined the relationship between parents and children? Yes, rebellion has always been a hallmark of the young. But with our kids’ faces buried in their hand-held screens 24/7, parental influence has been reduced to an all-time low.

… hoping for a renaissance between the generations

One can only hope for a renaissance between the generations at some point in the future, perhaps when serious adult responsibilities like the child-rearing of those hoped-for grandchildren starts to kick in.

And finally, hasn’t the monetization of all of life’s activity ruined our sense of meaning and purpose? Obliterated our ability to enjoy simple pleasures? Our immediate forbearers never realized the financial independence many of us have now achieved, yet they did not obsess over the lack of it. They merely sought a modicum of money in order to live.

Now the equation has been reversed, as we seem to live for the pursuit of money. It’s the only thing that matters in most of our lives. Getting it, and spending it – it’s all we ever think about anymore.

Even as we age into our golden years there is no relief from this pre-occupation. From a practical standpoint, we are relentlessly told how we must plan for retirement, so as not to inflict ourselves on our family. As we approach the finish line the most important thing has become making sure we exit this mortal coil without “being a burden” on those we love.

… shouldering burdens as the business of life

But isn’t life all about shouldering burdens, in one form or another, to benefit the ones we hold near and dear? Isn’t that what most of us have spent our lives doing?

Letting our children and grandchildren see our physical and mental deterioration in an up close and personal way, and allowing them to participate in our elderly care in some manner or fashion, is possibly the last contribution we can make to their eventual development into caring and empathetic human beings.

Preserving their bubble of self-absorption, by sparing them this frequently awkward exposure to how things will inevitably end for all of us, is not necessarily the gift we think it is.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
July 2, 2018

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