Jane Gross’s NYT blog describes the fears of those who are Single, Childless and ‘Downright Terrified’. They have made plans for geriatric care, stored up their retirement funds and readied their insurance. The future holds no great material terrors. If that’s all you want.
Having witnessed the “new old age’’ from a front-row seat, I’m haunted by the knowledge that there is no one who will care about me in the deepest and most loving sense of the word at the end of my life. No one who will advocate for me, not simply for adequate care but for the small and arguably inessential things that can make life worth living even in compromised health.
The “new old age” may have had its beginnings in the “new youth”, a period no longer defined as the interregnum between childhood and adulthood but a condition to be preserved forever. Whether the phenomenon of a solitary and childless old age is in some respects a choice that logically arose from a dread of developing attachments is a question for cultural historians. The 1960 movie The Magnificent Seven provides an interesting prequel to Easy Rider. The famous dialogue between the character played by Charles Bronson and a Mexican boy examines the tradeoffs between being born to be wild and taking your place in the human family.
Boy: Our fathers are cowards.
Gunman: Don’t ever say that again about your fathers. They are not cowards! You think I am brave because I carry a gun? Your fathers are much braver because they carry responsibility. For you, your brothers, your sisters and your mothers. This responsibility is like a big rock that weighs a ton. lt bends and it twists them until finally it buries them under the ground. Nobody says they have to do it. They do it because they love you and they want to. I have never had this kind of courage. Running a farm, working like a mule, with no guarantee what will become of it – this is bravery. That’s why I never even started anything like that. That’s why I never will.
And never is a long time.