When eating organic/vegetarian/gluten free, working out at the gym, and drinking eight glasses of water a day cease to delay the inevitable, baby boomers console themselves by thinking that, although age does not improve one's looks, at least it makes one wiser.
We've all heard how, having ceased to strive for mates and worldly success, no longer driven by the urge to please others, we are finally free to be ourselves. Some studies actually show that people become happier as they age. Whether or not we've grown rich in money and offspring, we have all grown rich in experience, and thus qualify for the job reserved for elders in traditional societies since time immemorial: the role of counselor, seer, and sage.
I cannot tell you how weird this makes me feel. Whenever I hear my contemporaries yammering on about how much more serene, centered, and happy they are than they used to be, I wonder if I am retarded somehow, and if I have missed some crucial step in this final, blessed phase of life.
At seventy, I do not feel one speck wiser than I did in my thirties. On the contrary, not only have I forgotten 85% of the things that I once knew, but the hole that that knowledge left behind, supposedly to make room for a new hoard of wisdom and discernment, remains a vacuum into which I daily stare, and shudder.
As for the role of counselor and village sage, don't make me laugh! In my callow youth, if someone asked for my advice I jumped to give it. But now, if you ask my opinion on what you should have for dinner, I will be struck dumb. Truffle-stuffed quail in puff pastry? Beans and rice? A simple cup of broth? How can I answer when I don't know what's in that stuff, or what your body needs at this moment, or what beans feel like on your tongue.
To quote the man in the Vatican, who am I to judge?
As for being happier now than I was years ago, I am grateful that I don't have to shave my legs as often, but I can't think of too much else to be glad about. Still, I can say that age has made me a little kinder. I am more understanding of people, less inclined to criticism or anger. For one thing, anger takes energy, of which I have little to spare. But mainly, my awareness of my own deficiencies makes it easier to forgive them in others. Again, who am I to judge?
But maybe that's where it's at, in the end--not wisdom, or knowledge, or even Love with a capital L. Just the homely, workaday practice of kindness. No matter how much organic kale we eat, how many miles we run, or how deeply we meditate we are all headed downhill. But as the light dims and the wind grows colder, we can at least aim to be good company for each other.