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Return to sender

John’s AARP stack
Contributed photos

February 17, 2016

My 50th birthday is coming up at the end of this month. I’m told this is a momentous birthday—a milestone. It is a time for reflection. And, bluntly, it is the tipping point in life where most people are closer to death than birth.

Considering that sometimes I can’t remember what age I am without adding or subtracting from my birth year, 1966, I have some mild relief at having arrived at this memorable number. But I wasn’t really fazed by turning “half a century old” until I received that AARP membership card in the mail.

“I guess this is a thing,” I thought, turning the plastic, temporary enrollment card over in my hand to discover that registering with the American Association of Retired People (AARP) before March 18 entitles me not only to the benefits of one of America’s largest and most powerful lobbies, but also a bonus gift—a free insulated travel bag. “Perfect for day trips,” according to the insert. (Will I not be taking trips at night after 50?)

I threw it all in the trash—or rather the trash bag of papers to be shredded. The experience of my 50 years has taught me not to leave things printed with my name and numbers lying around.

My husband, John, who is a few years older than me, finds this all quite amusing. He, too, declined AARP membership and keeps a stack of the enrollment forms that have been sent to him to show the kids in his government classes at school. The stack is currently about two inches thick. It seems that these letters are as relentless as aging itself.

“I don’t join because it’s a lobby group for old people and I think young people in this country are getting a raw deal,” says John. And, although I think he may have more personal reasons as well, I understand his motivation.

His students are some of the same kids, like my 17-year-old son and his friends, who are supporting Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for president. Interestingly, Sanders, at age 74, is most popular among young voters. According to exit polls taken during the New Hampshire primary last week, 83% of voters aged 18 to 29 chose Sanders. Sanders’ democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, only won (at 55%) within the demographic of voters 65 years and older.

It is not only Sanders’ ideas for free college that attract the young, but more importantly, his genuineness and his overall message of economic justice.

At age 50, jaded and leery though I am, I still identify more with these idealistic young people than I do with my own age group. At the start of my second 50 years I consider this a hopeful thing.