We Baby Boomers may not be called the “greatest generation”—that’s you, Mom and Dad!—but we certainly are the biggest. A veritable demographic juggernaut, the generation of Americans born between 1946 and 1964 is proceeding into post-middle age.
On January 1st, 2011, the oldest Baby Boomers celebrated their 65th birthday. On every day since, and every day for the next 18 years, 10,000 Boomers will have turned age 65. By 2030, 18% of the country will be 65 or over, and by 2050 there will be more than 4 million centenarians. We’ll break out the champagne.
As the Sixties Generation turns 60, Boomers are set to reinvent how it looks and feels to be elderly in America. Since we are the first to grow up in an entirely branded world, it’s only fitting that our collective old age get a makeover.
The existing terms used to describe us are, well, bummers: senior citizens, the elderly, older Americans, golden agers. Just hearing them makes one’s joints ache. They reflect the viewpoint of a clinician wielding pincers over a gurney. Who would proudly proclaim himself a “senior citizen”?
Indeed, the very notion of “old” has gotten old. A study by the Pew Charitable Trust reveals that just a third of respondents 75 or older regard themselves as “old”, while a third of adults 65 to 74 feel 10 to 19 years younger than their years, with a frisky sixth feeling 20 years younger. The post-young era is a time for happy reflection: a mere one percent of Pew’s respondents say their lives turned out worse than expected.
So what does this new old age hold for Boomers? What will we do in the coming third of our life? The aging Boomer can regard retirement not as an impending dark ages, but rather as a renaissance in the making—the perfect opportunity to renew, discover, and express oneself and find new meaning in this life business.
This is not your father’s retirement. Our restless generation will continue its quest for new challenges and new discoveries. In our old age we seek meaning. Experience has taught us that life’s greatest, most enduring pleasures are simple ones. By now we know immediate gratification isn’t gratifying, and that material things do not add up to happiness or fulfillment. Older and wiser, we want what money can’t buy.
I suggest one way to fulfill these wants, as well as fill the emptiness retirement often presents. Since ancient times, those of humankind who could do so, retired to the country. But now, in this still-affluent age, the country can be found mere steps from your door.
The garden provides the essential ingredients for post-youngsters to stay physically, socially and mentally active, curious and relatively stress-free. Plus, vegetable gardening not only saves money, but also introduces you to flavors and colors you’ve neither tasted nor seen. Starting over, indeed.
Unlike golf, tennis, bridge and travel, gardening offers a rich and varied narrative—one calling for planning, caring and resourcefulness. The home garden is a sacred realm, a world apart from the babble of media and hum of technology. We are linked to the sun, the earth and the elements. Caring for plants, we ourselves are nurtured and nourished. And, farther afield, community gardens enable post-youngsters to help build neighborhoods and create a healthful and sustainable legacy for decades to come—an age-old, old-age concern.
In both private and public gardens, the generation that gave new meaning to “green” can find a continuing source of stimulation, serenity and fulfillment. Baby Boomers become Baby Bloomers. Joni Mitchell put it best: “We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get back to the garden.