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My Recent Trip to the Mailbox

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I recently celebrated my golden anniversary of life. Historically, I've not been one for public celebrations. I have always preferred to use these annual commemorations for quiet moments of self-reflection.

I feel great; I don't look a day over 49. I've even found a measure of contentment by being in excellent physical shape -- with the added proviso, "for my age."

Knowing that I was soon approaching 50, friends and family would occasionally ask: "How does it feel to be turning 50?"

How do you answer that? Since I had never been 50, all I could say: "It's no big deal." Many of my close friends have already reached the five-decade plateau this year, so it became one more thing to bond around. And, hey, it beats the alternative.

It wasn't a big deal. I haven't given it much thought, at least not until I went to my mailbox approximately 15 days before my birthday. Those of you who have already passed 50 no doubt know where this yarn is headed.

It is that once-in-a-lifetime moment when you make the perfunctory visit to the mailbox for the usual assortment of bills and junk mail only to be startled by that four-letter acronym on the left side of the envelope staring at you with the correct mailing name and address that reads: AARP!

Couldn't there have been a warning? Maybe several postcards months in advance preparing me for this date with inevitability that read:

"In a few months we'll be calling."

But this is wishful thinking by someone coming to terms with the shock and awe that the American Association of Retired Persons has come calling without notice.

AARP's arrival robs any sober-thinking individual of the impulses of denial. We can lie to our friends, but if AARP says you're 50, you're 50.

I would imagine their accuracy rate percentage on age is off the charts. The "50 is the new 40" propaganda is no match for the reality of AARP.

Didn't they know people are living longer? Isn't there some sort of adjusted-for-inflation criteria associated with age? That alone would have pushed the envelope back by at least five years.

There is a Big Brother creepiness associated with the whole thing. It doesn't matter if it is the FBI, IRS, or one offering discounts on travel, dining, or shopping.

If it is based on using personal information that you would have unlikely provided had traditional methods been used, it is an invasion of privacy.

Did AARP lobbyists have language inserted into the Patriot Act? What else could explain their possession of such sensitive information? They have probably violated the Fourth Amendment to send me their unwanted solicitation.

But my discomfort is not about turning 50 nor is it the "AA" part, but rather the "RP" portion -- retired persons.

Since I am not a well-paid athlete, entertainer, Wall Street executive, and I did not win the lottery, receiving something in the mail overtly advertising retirement is about as relevant as wearing a wet suit in a lion cage.

How can I possibly entertain retirement?

With their sophisticated methods to know that 50 was on the horizon, AARP should have also known I would be offended receiving something so blatant about retirement.

If AARP wants to be taken seriously by those of us who can't fathom retirement, I recommend it creates another organization -- something that serves as a buffer that officially welcomes you to indisputable middle age (a fact that while in our 40s, many of us continue to deny), while adequately preparing you for the upcoming golden years mentally.

How about the American Association for those in Pre-Retirement (AAPR)? It's a fair warning. It puts those of us not ready to contemplate retirement in the proper frame of mind.

Had I received something from AAPR, no problem. That would have been consistent with natural order. Why didn't the braintrust at AARP factor this as a viable option?

But no buffer was forthcoming, no warning, no mental preparation, just a bucket of cold water splashed on my face while in the deep sleep of denial. Forget the 50 is the new 40 rationalization. The AARP solicitation forced me to contemplate that 80 may very well be the new 65 in terms of retirement age?

I guess AARP did me a favor, but why doesn't it feel like one?

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist and blog-talk radio host. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at or visit his Web site:

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