People in their fifth decade or better know that about 12 seconds after you turn 50, a thick envelope from AARP arrives in the mail. And almost without exception, this event is treated with the same dread we reserve for a root canal, the plague or quicksand.
It’s as if by receiving the envelope containing an introductory letter and a membership card — entitling you to a world of discounts — you’ve suddenly arrived at the banks of the River Styx, and old Capt. Charon is on his way to ferry you to the other side.
AARP is the 55-year-old nonprofit for people over 50. And while the by-now universally anticipated arrival of the AARP envelope does not equal death, it does signify that you’ve reached some kind of milestone. That you’re over some kind of hill.
“It puts you in the next category,” commented one of my colleagues, who is not in the AARP category. “There’s the 20s and the 30s, and then the 46-120 year olds.” My colleague’s husband is a member of this last category but, although that makes her a legacy, she won’t take advantage of her husband’s AARP membership. It’s just too painful.
Another colleague isn’t content simply to toss the letters that arrive from AARP into the recycling. He shreds them.
All this disquiet comes at a time when more people are living longer and better. And is having the AARP spotlight suddenly turned on you truly worth the cringe? Yes, our culture celebrates the young. It’s hard to get around that, although Mick Jagger has come the closest to succeeding. But he works at it. On the other hand, Johnny Depp has reached the age where he is eligible for his AARP card. Whose idea of 17 is he trying to be?
Judaism, of course, praises the hoary head, whom Leviticus 19:32 commands us to rise before. And the archetypal image of a good Jew — and God — is an old man with a beard. (Although not every old man with a beard is a good Jew, or God.)
And yet, think of all the fun the young King David had — slaying giants, playing war with King Saul, jamming on his lyre. Old King David was miserable from sunup till sundown. Moses spent 40 years as a pampered prince in the house of Pharaoh, then another 40 years as a shepherd, free from the constraints of society. We don’t hear that the 40 years after that were a lot of laughs.
Old Moses saw that burning bush and, despite the discount travel it promised, knew his life was about to change. But if Moses had known what was afoot, would he have approached the bush in the first place? Of course he would have. He was Moses.
Not everyone is. I’ve had my own special relationship with AARP. When I turned 50, I prepared myself for the arrival of that life-changing envelope. But it never came. At first I was relieved. I had cheated the AARP. Then I was insulted. How could this omniscient, omnipresent organization get membership materials to seemingly every 50-year-old on the planet and miss me? Old traumas of being picked last for the elementary school softball team came back to me.
I don’t know what those boys who muttered “Don’t pick Holzel” are doing today, but it’s a safe bet that most of them are bald and overweight. And they’ve been contacted by AARP. And so I got used to the fact that I had a special immunity to the AARP. As if lamb’s blood had been swabbed on my mezuzah, the organization has just passed me by. And as my friends turn 50 and tell how they recoiled when the letter came in the mail, I always respond with sympathy and say calmly, “I never got one.”
I’m 54 now, and I can’t tell you how many times I dropped that line, with a combination of compassion and schadenfreude. But I’ve said it for the last time. This week, the letter arrived in the mail.
It’s in a number 10 envelope with an address window. I’d like to open it with you.
I’m sliding my thumb under the flap of the envelope. It’s opening cleanly, easily. There are several sheets of folded paper and a business return envelope inside. “Please reply by July 31, 2013,” it reads.
“Dear David Holzel,” the letter begins,
“To join AARP and apply for AARP Life Insurance Program benefits, simply complete and return the enclosed form. … No medical exam is required… .”
Wait, what? Is that how the first time is supposed to be? Life insurance? Where’s my membership card? My magazine subscription? Is that all there is?
On the other hand, this means that they really haven’t gotten to me. My mezuzah mojo is still in effect.
Even so, I don’t want to be left out of this important milestone in life. So, please, let me know when you receive yours. I promise I’ll be sympathetic.