“Sometimes I feel like a scout from my generation, sent out ahead to experience in my fifties what even the healthiest Boomers are going to experience in their sixties, seventies, or eighties” Michael Kingsley writes, in his new book Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide. Just 65, the author uses his battle with Parkinson’s to reflect on life and living with the disease with which he was diagnosed at age 43.
Whether in failing or fine health, the truth is older generations do offer insight into what those who follow can expect – for better and for worse. Like the “canary in the coal mine,” they are leading the way; and those paying attention will know what to expect.
The notoriously edgy editor of Slate, The New Republic and Harper’s, and contributor to the New Yorker and Vanity Fair, Kingsley directs his observations to the 78-million Boomers whose competitive nature and end-game he questions. For the “Me Generation” to improve upon its reputation as selfish, he suggests considering altruism – as in generativity, one generation giving back to another — by paying off the national debt.
Somehow Kingsley manages to maintain humor while struggling with Parkinson’s for more than two decades now. He writes how after awakening from brain surgery he assured his friends he retained his sense of humor by declaring, “Well, of course, when you cut taxes, government revenues go up. Why couldn’t I see that before?”
He isn’t the first and won’t be the last to remind us – young and old – that you have to have a sense of humor about aging. It is after all life’s oldest practical joke.
Seriously, though, he wants his insights to further understanding of the disease. “The least misfortune can do to make up for itself is to be interesting,” he writes. “Parkinson’s disease has fulfilled that obligation.”