Musings on an aging world

I think I’ve given myself a lot of leeway by saying from the outset that this blog would be about moving on in time and space. It’s hard to imagine anything that couldn’t be justified under that umbrella. The house hunt is on hold for a week, though not all of the accompanying angst since we are spending the week with our daughter, whose own angst about the prospect of our leaving her childhood home is palpable. But the raison d’etre for the week is a chance to take in as many shows at Stratford as possible (for me, that’s six shows in four days. I’m now two days and four shows in.)

On Tuesday afternoon, I saw Midsummer Night’s Dream at a matinee with Erica and a group of her home-schooling friends and kids (including 4-year-old grandson Quentin who, amazingly, remained rapt throughout). It was one of the Festival’s school-group days, and the theatre was filled with kids. What a good choice for them—it was Shakespeare at his funniest and most playful. Food fights and tussles ankle-deep in water. It’s a controversial production; I loved it.

The audience at Man of La Mancha that evening was much different—as it was yesterday at Mother Courage and Hay Fever. Perhaps I’m self-delusional, but I felt like one of the younger people there. It got me thinking about aging and demographics and how the world may feel like quite a different place to our children and grandchildren than it did to us.

I don’t remember, as a child or younger woman, looking around and seeing mostly old people. Maybe I was blind to them. Maybe I didn’t choose to go where they were (I did go to the theatre). Or maybe they just weren’t there in such great numbers because my generation outnumbered them, as we now outnumber our children and our grandchildren. Young and middle-aged people must be far more used to seeing grey hair and canes than we were at their age. Old people are a part of their landscape.

As baby-boomers (well, we’re actually a few of years ahead of the bulge), we’re very aware of the impact we’ve had on society: the Beatles, real estate trends, Botox, knee replacements, and the long-term fiscal implications of our retirement benefits—implications that will outlive us, as our children are quick to point out. No doubt, we’ve been in charge. But something subtler crept into my consciousness at the theatre as I noted the long line at the table for the hearing assistance devices and the few middle-aged and even fewer young folks mingling with the masses of grey hair and bad dye jobs. A lot has been written about the economic expectations for our children and grandchildren, but I began to wonder how the demographic mix of ages affects the way we all see ourselves in the world, beyond music and fads and financial statistics—or if it is even possible to move beyond those factors.

What’s very obvious among the Stratford attendees is true everywhere: young people make up a smaller and smaller proportion of the population. Subtract those grey heads—or reduce them by half—and I also wonder how Stratford will survive.

King Lear tonight, King John tomorrow.


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