I was seven years old when Anthony Newly and Leslie Bricusse’s musical “Stop the World- I Wanna Get Off” premiered in London’s West End. That was 1961. The world that Newly and Bricusse wanted to stop and get off of now seems so quaint.

We were in the White-Bread/Camelot years having been led by Dwight D. Eisenhower followed by John F. Kennedy. It was before the world fell apart.

We were still able to suppress the increasing anxiety that living in a post-nuclear world meant. Khruschev was a silly Soviet dictator who pounded his shoe on the table at the U.N. Castro was a green-uniformed, cigar smoking puppet who rattled our cages, but wasn’t really a problem. Lassie rescued Timmy on a weekly basis, Father really did know best, and the Beaver got into mischief that was challenging but resolvable without needing medication or therapy.

Gonna Build a Mountain

But there were rumblings. People of color, who were then called ‘colored people’, were becoming more and more disenchanted with the racism, repression, and violence perpetrated against them. They began to organize and demand change. Black leaders and supporters increasingly made known their demands for equality, freedom, and civil rights.

There wasn’t any over-arching game plan, but there was an undeniable shift in consciousness. What had too long been tolerated, overlooked, or just taken for granted now was questioned, and challenged. Change was excruciatingly slow, and a high price was paid in lives lost and dreams denied; yet, change did occur.

I Wanna Be Rich

The measures of wealth in that decade consisted of home ownership, buying a new car, having a high school diploma, having a career with one company over a period of 30 years, followed by a comfortable retirement with a pension. You might also be rich enough to afford a boat or a two-week annual vacation on a lake or at a beach. It wasn’t questioned. It was your right as an American!

Promises of Social Security, then barely 30 years in the making, were regarded gratefully, but with just a hint of suspicion, thinking it meant once rugged individuals would somehow become dependent on the State to care for them. All this for $86.00 a month, the average social security check back in 1965.


As this was going on, other movements emerged bringing with them increasingly in-your-face social change. For the Greatest Generation, such turmoil predicted End-Times. All that fell apart as Americans began to fight wars in countries no one ever heard of before.

We ran into economic recessions in the mid 1970’s and the early 1980’s.Debt, doubt, and social change continued to pit one generation against another. And then we grew up. The Hippies tuned in, turned on, dropped out, but then . . . well, we resurfaced.

What Kind of Fool Am I?

We moved into communes, then moved into communities, then moved into houses, raised families, and became our parents. The Revolution did transform us. Things did change, including us, but not as much as we thought.

The challenges faced by Boomers are similar to, but not the same as our parents. As a generation, we are living longer than any generation before. We are learning that the changes aging challenges us with require more resources and different strategies. The idealism we started our lives with now holds a mirror to the gaps that we have failed to bridge.

Stop the World

I am not alone in wondering how I am going to navigate the years ahead. Having worked in the field of aging for my professional career, I know the vulnerabilities that I face. I have a good track record of finding ways to get back on my feet after I have stumbled. I am blessed with a network of generous and kind friends. For the moment, I can meet my basic needs. But all these do not guarantee that I will continue to live the lifestyle I currently enjoy.

Headlines this past week highlight the vulnerabilities we all face. Wildfires, war, gang violence, economic insecurity. These events are destabilizing for anybody, and prove even more catastrophic for older adults.

The statistics are daunting. Homelessness is a nation-wide problem. Homelessness for people 50 and older is increasing. The University of California, San Francisco, just published a new report on homelessness in California. This study showed, in part, that nearly half of single adults living on California streets are over the age of 50. Seven percent of all homeless adults, single or in families, are over 65. And 41% of those older, single Californians had never been homeless — not one day in their lives — before the age of 50. As a society, we have rents in our safety net that may not be able to be mended.

We Need a New Contract for Aging

My parents grew up in a world that promised if you worked hard and followed the rules, you would be taken care of when you got old. Of course, “got old” meant living to 66. Once FDR got the New Deal underway, that contract became sacred. And, the politicians elected by my parents saw to it that this “contract” was honored.

But the contract needs to be renegotiated. Things have changed. We are living longer. Stuff costs more. There are more of us who need more things. I believe there is legitimate expectation that our elected officials should be addressing these issues, but what we seem to have overlooked is that those very officials are members of our generation.  

Remember the Folks Who Ran for Student Council?

The folks who ran for student council in Junior High and High School are the ones who are now running the country. And, the same group who did sit-ins, be-ins, dropped acid to gain enlightenment, and espoused all kinds of social justice ideals, are the ones still protesting that things need to change. We really haven’t changed all that much!

What has changed, though, is now we are the ones who need to address the issues. We are the ones who need to speak up. We are not powerless or lacking in influence, although too many of us act that way. The world isn’t going to stop, in spite of our wanting to get off.

4 responses to “Stop the World I Really, Really Wanna Get Off!”

  1.  Avatar

    So well put with your usual humor and directness.

  2. Berkeley Fuller-Lewis Avatar
    Berkeley Fuller-Lewis

    Mary: I cannot resist re-airing a hobbyhorse of mine: The “safety net” which every society needs — flies in the face of a dark, semi-invisible “current” that still flows powerfully through the American subconscious: PURITANISM. Its core tenet was (overtly in the 1600s, covertly now but still “alive” and very UN-well), is that, if one is financially super-rich, then one is “favored by god,” whereas if one has not “made it” — then “one” is part of “the undeserving poor.” The ultimate “class system,” grounded in an unseen, dark “faith.”

    While the lucky (often inheritors of hoarded wealth, or sociopaths who have learned yet another “clever” new way to “game the system”) pursue this goal of Gold-Based “Salvation,” their actions simultaneously (and cluelessly) expand the ranks of the damaged underclass.

    ITEM: To “save taxes” (only for the prosperous and lucky) Ronald Reagan closed California’s state psychiatric inpatient facilities. Many of those folks (including many soul-wounded veterans) went to “live” on the streets, there to be despised for “making our cities ugly.” Puritanism: the broken psychic bedrock of the USA.

  3. Geri Avatar

    Love this show and we did a production of it way back when. It is very fitting for today! I do want to stop the world and get off most days!! Thanks for a fun (but maybe not so fun) post!

  4. LINDA LYON Avatar

    Puritinism, exactly the belief of rich being the heroes of our society…well stated and glad for you stating this aspect that continues. Reagan’s dissolution of California’s psychiatric facilities was terrible for our society members. I try hard to think positive, and find any story of people helping each other through tough times. Helping others and being kind does not seem to be the focus of our country right now.

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