“An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress” ― W.B. Yeats
I have coasted into senior citizen status without a lot of fanfare and hoopla, that is until recently.
In my sixties, I ran several marathons and climbed every volcano in Washington State. For years, I had been told I looked younger than my peers. I was carded in bars well into my forties.
But all that has changed. I have caught up, and there is no escaping the hard facts. Signs of ageing are descending upon me daily, and with an irritating glee whisper to me “Ok, you had your day—now the jig is up”.
Just recently I was referred to twice as the “Old Man” at work, and the ticket counter at the theatre automatically gives me the senior discount without even asking. The National Park ranger carefully informs me that patrons sixty-two or over can get a free pass to all the parks—this when I was only sixty-one! And while I’m at it, the senior group in my parish recently added me to their email list – without my asking!
So, I am reluctantly coming to grips with the physical aspects of ageing. I will do my part in protecting my health as long as I can. I eat plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein. I exercise six days a week. I get annual physicals and six month dental check-ups. I even floss, for crying out loud.
But that does not keep my hair from falling out, my brow from looking like an old bull dog, or flaps of skin hanging from my jaws. Que sera, sera.
However, what I am unwilling to accept in this process is that my mind, my spirit, and my overall approach to life will grow old.
I am afraid of being that ornery, impatient, curmudgeon who is discontent with almost everything, and who lives in that dark negative place of the old person— you know the kind—the “Throw Momma from The Train” old person.
I want to be that senior citizen who is engaged in life, and who’s grandkids can’t wait for him to show up, because he is fun, because he plays, he is gentle, and easy, and happy, and is not cranky!
When you get to the last third of life, the tendency is to take the daily events of life for granted. It’s the “I know a lot, cause I’ve seen a lot” syndrome. But do I?
Let’s face it, life does repeat itself. Spring follows Winter, and Fall follows Summer—year after year after year. Holidays and birthdays come and go. Work stays basically the same from year to year.
Yet, I remember as a child, how I perked up at anything out of the ordinary. It was a reason for excitement and celebration. The new kid, a visiting teacher, someone’s birthday—all contributing to making life a constant surprise.
I am afraid if I begin to lose sight of the freshness of each day, I will grow stale, stiff, uninteresting on the inside while I age on the outside. This is how one gets “old”.
Everyday Life is waving its arms at me, trying to get my attention, crying out to me “Look at what I have brought you today—I am like you, changing, transforming, becoming something new at every moment. Don’t you see?”
The forever young in spirit see life as an upward helix, repeating its cycle year after year, but at each turn of the helix, they understand they are at a different level, seeing it from new angles and with fresh eyes.
To remain young inside, I must pay attention. I must realize my experience of this repeating life event is different, it is new, because I am different—I am in fact, NEW!
There is a song from the Bible, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.” (Lam 3:22-23,)
The fact that each day is new, carrying its own surprises and gifts, is indeed the mercy of God, and my call to look out upon my life with the fresh eyes of the young boy that in many ways I still am.
Thomas Merton wrote in “Thoughts in Solitude”
Living is the constant adjustment of thought to life and life to thought in such a way that we are always growing, always experiencing new things in the old and old things in the new. Thus life is always new.” —THOMAS MERTON, “THOUGHTS IN SOLITUDE”
In Gabriel García Marquez book Love in the Time of Cholera, he wrote;
“Age has no reality except in the physical world. The essence of a human being is resistant to the passage of time. Our inner lives are eternal, which is to say that our spirits remain as youthful and vigorous as when we were in full bloom.”
Many seniors remain active and engaged throughout their lives. They are choosing to live fully until the moment they die– In the old Emmit Rhodes song “You Must Live till You Die”
There have been numerous studies on what key life habits make these elder citizens stand out from the rest.
1. They accept the inevitable,
and embrace the natural ageing process, but they do what they can to stay healthy; diet, exercise, regular medical check-ups.
2. They Stay connected:
- With God – through regular times of prayer, meditation, spiritual reading
- With their family and friends – they show up and participate
- With their chosen communities- they show up in local church, civic, and other small group activities.
- They seek out diversity- not just the “senior groups”: meet with people who do not look like yourself.
3. They are life-long learners
They try new activities that challenge them physically, intellectually, and spiritually : a new musical instrument, Yoga, read widely, etc.
4. They are givers
It is an amazing and heartening thing to see those well into their eighties volunteering and providing services in the community. Where can you regularly show up, participate, and lend a hand?
I believe I can become that aged but “new” man, if I commit to these few simple things. I believe if I listen to life, watch it wave its arms and point to what’s new in each moment, I will remain new myself, and in so doing, remain fresh and available to what life has to offer for as long as it does. My face may look aged, but my heart and my spirit does not have to grow old.