HEAR THAT noise? A combination groan and rebel yell? It's the sound of a baby boomer turning 50 and it happens every nine seconds.
Last week, Sun reporter Ellen Gamerman's six-part series, "Dancing in the Twilight," offered boomers a revealing glimpse of what lies ahead, the pleasures and pain of emotional life in old age, described in poignant detail through residents of the Silver Spring retirement community, Leisure World.
But another message was delivered with the statistics that accompanied the series and the underpinnings of Ms. Gamerman's research: Neither the boomers nor the nation are prepared to cope with the imminent transition of that huge generation through the challenging and expensive last third of life. Both tend to be in denial as time for planning runs out.
For the most part, the people featured in Ms. Gamerman's series are lucky. They have the financial security through savings and government pensions to live in clean, comfortable, safe surroundings with access to good medical care.
Many of the 77 million baby boomers -- now 28 percent of the U.S. population -- have little reason to expect a similar lifestyle.
Government and private pensions aren't as generous as they used to be; some are disappearing entirely. Same for retiree health insurance. Yet studies show four out of 10 baby boomers have socked away less than $10,000 in retirement savings on their own.
Meanwhile, the safety-net programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are facing financial crises because of federal and state budget deficits.
And what are boomers doing about it? Eating. Taking part in the American epidemic of obesity that might shorten lives, but adds enormously to health costs in the process.
By sheer force of numbers, baby boomers change the culture of every age they enter. The same will surely happen as they dance their way through the twilight.
The choice is whether to make it a productive, healthy period where they contribute their knowledge and wisdom to improve American society as a whole or whether they become an enormous drain on the future. Decisions made now both by individuals and public policy-makers will determine the outcome.
Ms. Gamerman's series aptly portrayed the human tension between running from fear and confronting it. The moral of the story is that denial as a coping mechanism offers only temporary relief. Comfort comes from facing the future head-on and being as prepared as possible for what it may bring.