I admit it. I am obsessed by the aging process. I hate it. I hate the accelerating deterioration of my inner and outer body parts, the declining sharpness of hearing and sight, the slowing pace of my legs, and other unmentionable afflictions. Despite medical and pharmacological advances, which I welcome, I know that such advances are merely unnatural palliatives that extend our lives but do little to demolish the reality of our inevitable descent into oblivion.
That said, I have found one saving grace that is both inspiring and encouraging to anyone who has reached the age of seventy. I am inspired by the words and deeds of Ronald Reagan, who once joked that he didn't trust anyone under seventy.
Once the seventy line is crossed, a person says what they want without worrying about the consequences. I don't mean that reaching this age of pre-senility gives you the license to say hurtful words or deliberately insult or ridicule others, especially those of lesser years. But at age seventy, at long last, the Rubicon has been crossed. It is time to vocalize your opinions, say what you really mean, and trumpet your opinions without pussyfooting around or worrying that you are offending someone's pet cause.
We live in a world of a million pet causes. Television and the Internet have spawned thousands of ways to protest and demonstrate against some perceived violation of rights, as if the larger the crowd shown the greater the truth and righteousness of the cause.
More and more, I have discovered the one great joy of the aging process, speaking out. At this moment in my time, I feel free to speak what I think, what experience has taught me, what life has earned me. I really don't give a tinker's damn what others may think of my opinions. Moreover, I take great pleasure in argument and rebuttal, however it might offend those with contrary views. I say, the more contrary, the better the argument.
Most people tend to be absurdly rigid in their views. The prevailing etiquette is to either accept what is circumscribed, compartmentalized, and deemed politically correct or be relegated to the fixed boundaries of the enemy camp.
The greatest of all pleasures is to attack the ramparts of political correctness, which has frozen all manner of debate. Say the word "girl" to a woman over twenty-one and the gender Nazis may attack. Criticize the term African-American and you are a racist. Dare to say what you really think about Muslim extremists and you are anti-Muslim. If you opine for a saner immigration policy, you are anti-Hispanic. If you are pro-choice, then you are a baby killer. If you are pro-life, you are a religious fanatic. If you believe in God, you are a right-wing nut. If you don't, you're a Godless creep. Chat up a lady in the office and you are a sexual harasser. Advocate lowering taxes and you are anti-poor. Advocate raising taxes and you are anti-rich. Discipline your child and you are a child abuser. Kiss your darling little baby grandchild on her butt and you are a pedophile. Naysay a lionized academic and you are an ignorant ingrate. Disagree with a mainstream drama, literary, or music critic and you are a tasteless Philistine. Rebut a wine snob and your palate is deemed insensitive.
The list of alleged discriminations and rights abuses are endless. For people over seventy, who have shed their fear of non-conformity and discovered the joys of saying what they really think, the vineyards are bursting with ripe fruit.
Of course, there is a downside to such outspokenness. You risk being dismissed as a laughable curmudgeon or senile by those who the years have yet to ferment with hard-earned knowledge and insight.
But then, does it really matter what they think? Invariably they are dead wrong. By the time you hit seventy, the chances are that you've learned the truth of things and if you make eighty, you're entitled to a curmudgeon medal with clusters. If you hit ninety, hell who cares what anyone says.
I'll end with Dylan Thomas' immortal lines: "Do not go gentle into that good night."