My Story: OK, Boomer, Time to Step Up

There’s been a lot of discussion about “OK, Boomer,” which can be read as a cynical, condescending brush-off of older people and their views. A younger generation would like to blame us for all the ills of the world. Why didn’t we do something about climate change when there was still time to alter its course? And while younger people are struggling to pay off college debts and find affordable housing, the older generation ostensibly lives in comfort, having paid off mortgages a long time ago and carrying no college debt.

The truth, of course, is more complicated, as many seniors go into retirement with little savings and big medical bills. Also, when we were younger, many baby boomers were active politically: demonstrating against the war, starting environmental groups and recycling programs, joining civil rights protests and agitating for equal pay. It’s true that in the olden days we lived in a world of apparent abundance (cheap housing and fuel, for example) that we took for granted. We could have—and should have—done more to make this world a better place, but who knew things would turn out so badly?

I can understand young people’s resentments, yet I think the world, which grows more polarized each day, needs us elders. Not because we’re wiser than other generations, but because, by the time we reach old age, most of us have gotten rid of our egos. Those of us who are no longer in the work world don’t have to prove ourselves anymore or defend our reputations. At our age, when we’ve lost so much—friends, spouses, good health and/or careers—we know that human relationships are what’s left, what gives meaning to our lives. If we’ve gained any wisdom at all through our long lives, it’s how to be a decent human being.

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Stories of Resilience: Frank

A friend and I were touring a sculpture park when I first saw the elderly man walking slowly with a cane. As we approached, he made a joke about he’d let us pass him, because he probably couldn’t go as fast as we could.

I didn’t have time to get his name, so I’ll call him Frank, because that was my Czech grandfather’s name, and the man I met in the park told me, in the short conversation we had, that he was originally from Prague. He had the same twinkle in his eye as my grandfather, as if he wanted to share with everyone his happiness at being alive.

I’m guessing he was in his 90s, because he told us that he had grown up in a tumultuous time: war and invasions from neighboring countries (Germany and then Russia), and that he could hardly believe he was here, at his age, not just alive but out walking on this sunny winter day in Colorado.

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My Story: Learning a New Language

I’m not talking about trying to keep my mind sharp—and avoid dementia—by learning Chinese. I tried that once, and it didn’t work.

But every day, it seems, I encounter new words or phrases that are unfamiliar. I spent my life working as a writer and editor and thought I knew language better than most people. I know the difference between reign and rein, between palate and palette. But then I encountered “woke,” “meme,” “influencer” and other words that weren’t in my vocabulary.

Because these words have become omnipresent in this culture, I’ve learned what they mean, although I don’t understand how “woke” is different from someone becoming “awakened” to the injustices in our society. I have an idea what “meme” means, although I couldn’t give you a thorough definition, only an example: the phrase, “OK, Boomer,” has become a meme, and it’s not a nice thing to say about baby boomers.

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