I have been blessed with many spiritual mentors, people I never met but whose writings profoundly affected my journey. One is psychiatrist Viktor Frankl who helped me see that indeed there is much in life over which we have no control. However, notes Frankl, we always have the choice of how we face such circumstances.
I am 64 years old and so am faced with the reality of growing old, a reality over which none of us have control. So how do I choose to face this? Thankfully, I am again blessed with mentors whose examples have helped me decide how I choose to face aging. I’d like to share their stories with you.
The first man we’ll call John. What I admired about John was that he remained sexually active well into his 80s. Granted, he had some assistance from modern chemistry but his active sex life reflected an attitude of passion about living that he carried with him. I hope to emulate such passionate living for as long as possible, wanting to age with enthusiasms and a healthy lustiness.
The second man we’ll call Jim. He came to visit with me after 9/11 because those horrific events had stirred up his World War II experiences. He was 86 at the time and said he wanted to make peace with his war experiences before dying. As he described events he witnessed in the South Pacific, I asked him “Have you ever talked to anyone else about this?” “No”, he said. “You’re the first.” Can you imagine the courage that took? How tempting it would be to say to oneself “I’m too old to face up to something that’s bothering me.” Jim chose instead to try to face himself and heal. I hope to remain open to such growth as I age.
I do not know my third mentor’s name. I met him only once, years ago when I worked summers and Christmases as a mailman. On this particular day, I was cold and wet as I stepped into an apartment building. Waiting there was an elderly man. As I put the mail into the various boxes, he mouthed something to me. “Great”, I thought. “Another complaint” and I muttered with some annoyance “I beg your pardon?” He then reached into his pocket and pulled out what looked like a microphone. He placed it on his voicebox and I realized he must suffer from throat cancer. Through the microphone, I heard amidst the static “Merry Christmas. And a Happy New Year.” I mumbled a greeting back and left very humbled. As I age, I hope I face whatever comes my way with that same selflessness that man showed me.
There are two attitudes about aging that I find reflected in different poems. There is Emily Dickinson’s gentle “I could not stop for death/So death kindly stopped for me”. Then we have Dylan Thomas who wrote “Do not go gentle into that good night/Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” While I am drawn more to Thomas’ approach, I am fortunate that I have three gentle mentors who offer some light as I walk towards that good night.
Reflection: 1. How are you facing/do you want to face aging?
2. Do you have any mentors who offer you inspiration on how to face aging?