Monday, June 17, 2013

Aging: the cost of living

Logicians, thinkers and psychologists often warn about overly simplified thinking.  They tell us to beware of "black and white thinking" but in some cases, it may be a good idea, helpful, even.  Think about life: you either got it or you don't.  Yeah, yeah, I know, that when I am dying, I will pass through stages of loss of consciousness and all that, but in everyday practical terms, I am alive or am dead.  

So, in this matter of aging, one either has the fortune to be alive or one doesn't.  That means pretty inescapably that as long as I manage to continue to live, I age.  Further, the effect is cumulative.  I haven't found a way to age through yesterday and not have the aging, wrinkling, slowing added to the previous aging and to today's.  As Danny DeVito says of his wealthy mother-in-law, I just keep getting older and older and older.

I do try to put the whole thing in perspective.  I saw those rocks on the trail at the Grand Canyon which have been dated to being 1.7 million years old.  I know that humans have been around for 4 or more million years, that the earth is about 4 billion years old and the universe about 13 billion.  But that information doesn't do much for my continuing confinement between aging and death.  

The best writing on aging I have met lately is Sister Joan Chittister's "The Gift of Years".  She writes:

The truth is that older people tend to come in two flavors-the sour ones and the serene ones. The sour ones are angry at the world for dismissing them from the rank and file of those who run it and control it and own it and are not old in it. They demand that the rest of the world seek them out, pity them, take their orders, stay captive to their scowls. The serene ones live with soft smiles on their aging faces, a welcome sign to the world of what it means to grow old gracefully. To have the grace of old age. They require us to go on growing more and more into ourselves as we age. It is of these that Meridel Le Sueur, who lived to be ninety-six, wrote, "I am luminous with age." Luminous. Not painted. Not masked. Luminous! They are the women and men who see with wider eyes, hear with tuned ears, speak with a more knowing tongue. These are people with soul.

The problem is that preparation for aging in our modern world seems to be concentrated almost entirely on buying antiwrinkle creams and joining a health club-when the truth is that what must be transformed now is not so much the way we look to other people, as it is the way we look at life. Age is the moment we come to terms with ourselves. We begin to look inside ourselves. We begin to find more strength in the spirit than in the flesh.

Joan Chittister. The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully (pp. 39- 41). Kindle Edition.

I have tried "sour" and "serene" both and I find I prefer serene.  It is worth striving for and working at.

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