One of my pet hates about going to the movies, as my long-suffering wife will attest, are those maddening ads about retirement villages. In one a female declares "it is all about lifestyle now." This suggests that retirement in one of these facilities removes one from life, removes the possibility of a bad diagnosis, the illness of a grandchild or financial ruin or approaching death so that one can concentrate on style. But what does it mean to change ones life so that it is "all about style"? Is this not the ultimate trivialization of human Being? One does not now have to press the great questions of life, of faithfulness, truthfulness, hopefulness and grace. Instead life is reduced to the kind of wine one drinks or the holiday one takes or the clothes one wears. For surely this is what "style" refers to.
What ever happened to the wisdom of the elderly, the books they read and the relationships they have? What happened to reflection on the bad times, of failed love and disastrous decisions and lost opportunities? Or, on the other side of the ledger, the actions that were courageous and good and unexpected. To reduce the last years of life to the empty notion of "style" is to demean the elderly.
The rest of the ad proclaims that the staff are "just like family" an unbelievable assertion, and we hear the pathetic voice of a man telling us that it is so secure that "I no longer have to worry." It is seductive in that it paints a picture of life as safe, self-made and in the bosom of family. It is an invitation to infantilism. Are the elderly incapable of adventure? Can they no longer read a book or hear a sermon or see a play that will change them even at this late stage? The advertisement tells us that life is over, nothing more will happen. That is a description of death. A corpse cannot expect a lot to happen.
The Christian view of life, from cradle to grave, is that it is a journey towards God. This is the organising motive of living above all others. It is a journey into the truth that pertains to human thriving and joy. There is no way out of this journey, there are no holidays from it and one does not retire from it. It presses us second by second, minute by minute; it is in our mouths and our breath. Our moments of joy are contained within it as are our moments of complete devastation. As Augustine said: "Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee." The idea that life is really about style is a lie thought up by the advertising industry and it should be exposed for what it is.
Christians are called to live the eschatological life. This means that we acknowledge that the future is out of our control, it breaks in upon us. Part of the freedom of the Christian is to know this and give up the fanciful idea that we are in control. There is no place for Christian exceptionalism here; the idea that Christians are better at life or are protected from bad things by their belief. It means that we understand that there is a unifying thread to life, the journey towards God, that if forsaken leads to being among the living dying ones as opposed to the dying living ones.
To talk about retirement as being "all about lifestyle" is a blasphemy that assumes we create our own lives and have only such a fragile thing as "style" to get us through the dark days and nights of the aging and dying. It is part of the presumption of bourgeois humanism that our lives are of our own making and that we can proceed with that making with the flimsiest foundations. It is not surprising that we live trivial lives because our lives are limited by the horizons of the self. The narratives that we adopt, perhaps unconsciously, are those bequeathed to us by capitalism or the nation or the family, those universal powers that cripple the imagination and ensure that nothing untoward happens.
This advertisement exists without controversy because it exists in a society in which the experience of the self is all we have. It is generally acknowledged that there is no unifying thread that runs through life. In its extreme, life consists of experiences that are not necessarily related to each other. They are gathered together under the pleasure principle. The slogan for our times that "We are not here for a long time, we are here for a good time" is apt. This amounts to a trivialization of the whole of life to the matter of enjoyment and it is this that gives permission for our ad. What else can one expect from a society that has lost any discernable way?
Peter Sellick has published a selection of his essays. They may be downloaded to Kindle or bought from Amazon. The title is "The Metaphysics of the One Night Stand".
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