The New Segregation

I am currently renting a room in a modular house in a modular neighborhood, if you can call this 55+ community a neighborhood. It seems more like a ghetto to me, a place where a single group is sequestered, though in this case, “ghetto” doesn’t have the usual slummy connotations, and the people choose to live here rather than are forced by mandate to occupy the area. Still, the place is segregated from the rest of the city, populated by a distinctive group of not wealthy, not young individuals. That these folk are a mixed lot, all colors, nationalities, and opinions, does not mitigate their age-related sameness.

old manOutside the gates of this so very depressing “park” where the manufactured houses seem dealt out like a game of solitaire, there is a high school. And every afternoon, while the aged walk the inside perimeter of their cage, the young folks mill around outside, waiting for their rides. Old. Young. And never the twain shall meet. Or something like that.

When did we become such an age-segregated society? It can’t be a good thing. Don’t the young and the old complement each other? One group bringing wisdom, the other youthful idealism? And yet, I don’t see a lot of idealism among the young or wisdom among the aged. (As the father says in the Kevin Bacon movie, She’s Having a Baby, “People don’t mature anymore. They stay jackasses all their lives.”)

I don’t know what I want from myself as I grow older, but I do know the thought of living in an old folks ghetto (or even in an upscale gated community for “active” seniors) gives me the creeps. Or maybe I’m just denying the inevitability of my own aging, though I don’t think so. I can’t think of anything more depressing than only dealing with old folks (though mostly I’m doing that now — the majority of my friends are considerably older than I am, and in almost all of my dance classes, I am the baby, though I am not so young for all that.)

Of course, since I won’t have the money to live in a gated community, even a downscale one, I doubt I’ll ever have the choice of ghettoizing or segregating myself, but the other amenities that will be available to me seem just as creepy. I don’t see myself joining senior-only groups, going on senior outings, partaking of early-bird specials for seniors, or living in any sort of senior-oriented neighborhood. I certainly don’t want to be one of those old folks who gain cachet from their advanced years, and who make sure everyone knows their age.

When I was young, my mother never told me I did something good “for my age.” If it wasn’t good, I got no credit. On the back end of my life, I want to live the same way. It (whatever “it” is) is good or not good in and of itself, not with consideration for age.

And yet, what do I know? Life changes us. Age changes us. As decrepitude creeps in, as I start making the accommodation for the end of life, maybe I’ll be glad to be surrounded by others of my ilk.

But not yet. With whatever “youth” I have left, I want to live life to the fullest, to experience the world as much as I am capable, to deal with people as individuals rather than as effects of their age.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)