Where We Choose to Spend Our Golden Years

“Old age” promises Robert Browning, “will the last of life for which the first is made.” However, I, as a physician, see from those who are experiencing their golden years that it appears to be filled with most of the same uncertainties, conflicts, loneliness and fears of all the other ages.

One of the institutions of my adopted country that I have never been able to fathom is that of the planned retirement community. Found primarily in the Sunbelt States, there has been a mushrooming of entire cities like the Villages in Florida or Leisure World in Southern California dedicated exclusively for those over 55. Sometimes referred to as “God’s waiting room,” these developments were designed to create a problem-free world for financially comfortable senior residents wanting to live a perpetual fantasy of fun and companionship. Made up primarily of white, well-to-do retirees, they offer literally thousands of group activities in a Disneyland-like setting. Providing everything from food to entertainment, residents need never leave their gates. The question is, just how happy are those who have chosen to live like they are on a perpetual luxury cruise, living like the lotus eaters who forget everything but the pleasures of the present moment described in Tennyson’s poem.

Speaking only for myself, I can’t imagine myself living in an age-defined ghetto, bereft of contact with those of all ages, circumstances, and ideas, and focused on nothing more than my own pleasure. Just as I can’t see myself spending my life on a perpetual vacation, I have trouble imagining a meaningful existence centered on nothing but pleasure seeking activities. It was therefore interesting to me come across an article in the last issue of the Harvard Magazine about a recent documentary by Lance Oppenheimer, Some Kind of Heaven, that explored life in the Villages. He finds that for many of the retirees, life isn’t paradise, but paradise lost. The hour and twenty minute documentary was released in 2020, and can be streamed or downloaded. I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, but it got a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and promises an interesting insight into the lives of those portrayed.

I would be curious to hear from any of you who have experience with anyone living in one of these communities, or your own insights if you currently reside in such a place. The challenge for all of us is to consider how to find meaning (as opposed to just pleasure) in our remaining years. As the creator of the documentary states, “Everyone, no matter where you are in your life, has dreams and desires.” Exploring this theme is much more compelling than simply saying, “Hey, there is a bunch of older people who have decided to live in this really strange place.”

This entry was posted in America, Death and Dying, Family, Happiness, Health and wellness, Loneliness, Thoughts & Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Where We Choose to Spend Our Golden Years

  1. Reg Spittle says:

    I watched both my parents fade away in such places and I never want to live in one. I found passions in backpacking and writing and plan to continue both as long as I can. I think everyone needs to try new experiences at all stages of life.

  2. Reluctant Retiree says:

    I’m going to take exception to your statements here. For every place like the Villages in Sumpter country, there are dozens of smaller parks designated for seniors over 55 that are not filled with people focused on “their own pleasure.” Many, if not most, of the residents are adults who have raised their children, enjoy their grandchildren, and have moved to a warmer climate due to health issues. I live in one of these age-restricted communities and would hardly call it a “ghetto.” Having raised my own children, I now find that the community I live in is quite a diverse gathering of ages and ethnic backgrounds. Most of us live on fixed incomes, but still find enjoyment in the simple things of life. If I want to spend time with children, I can do that while attending worship services.

  3. Jorge Medico says:

    Thank you for taking the time to make all the valid points you bring up. Like everything in life, there are multiple, valid points to each issue, and you reflect on several. We all certainly need community. While I prefer greater diversity amongst the age of my friends, not everyone, obviously, shares my viewpoint. Be well, and enjoy each day to the max!

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