Say what you want about the embattled U.S. Postal Service, but the agency remains exceptionally good at delivering stuff I don’t need or want into my P.O. box. Sure, this isn’t the post office’s fault; they’re just the messenger. And unlike that bizarre spam from Nigeria informing you of your long-lost cousin with a bazillion dollars he wanted you to have, getting junk mail at the post office comes through filter-free. While we happily deploy computer programs to whack spam before it arrives in our inbox, we wouldn’t dream of ceding this responsibility to postal workers in the case of snail mail.
I’m not sure why that is, but likely it has something to do with our lurking suspicion that, even in the depths of a recession, we’re ever hopeful that we’ll soon be able to buy some frivolous doo-dad out of the Hammacher-Schlemmer catalog. And, in my case, I like to puzzle over the direct-mail pieces I receive just about weekly from the American Association of Retired Persons.
At 46, technically I’m not eligible for AARP membership – although I will admit it’s getting disturbingly close (at 50, you’re in). If I ever do join, it will be after about a decade of receiving direct mail from them; most of which appears to revolve around “deals” of one stripe or another. This stream of junk mail serves as a jolting reminder of aging, mortality, this mystical thing called “retirement” as well as the reach of what is the single most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill.
My assumption has always been, based on stereotypes, that membership in AARP would mean I’d have representation to lobby for bills that favor older folks and, when possible, leave younger ones out in the cold. The image of the Medicare card-carrying AARPster decrying “government hands” on his health care is an amusing caricature – but ultimately not entirely accurate. AARP, it turns out, actually supports the health care bill, although given the strident reaction to the bill from what appear to be the older segments of our population, I imagine that decision isn’t unanimously favored among its members. The narrative that’s been constructed by Republican opposition and endlessly parroted in the right-wing media is that we can’t afford to help more people get health insurance – even as everyone over 65 is guaranteed it through Medicare. (As an aside, I’d note we can still afford $664 billon this year for defense, so prioritization seems to be the more salient issue.) The other main argument is that it’s – gasp! – “socialized” medicine; in other words, just like Medicare.
It’s unfair to characterize all those who would help deny health coverage to a 25-year-old as greedy oldsters who’ve got theirs and to hell with anyone else. But there appears to be some of that going around. As I contemplate my own “golden years” in the decades ahead, I plan to be more like so many Summit County seniors and retirees – using their time and money to help people of all nations, of all ages to live better lives. Sitting grumpily in a living room that’s been converted to a Fox News echo chamber, firing off e-mails of Obama in a Hitler mustache, standing around at “tea party” rallies to protest “government” with no clear alternatives – that’s not for me.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the older folks I know, it’s that vitality and life enjoyment in later years comes not from circling the wagons, but from reaching out wherever possible. I’m not sure where AARP stands on promoting that kind of lifestyle, but the fact that they’ve researched the proposed health care reform and said it looks OK offers hope that, perhaps, this isn’t my father’s AARP.
Maybe I should start reading that junk mail a little more closely.
Summit Daily editor Alex Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 668-4618.
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