On Growing Old

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?

About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
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5 Responses to On Growing Old

  1. Cornelia Patterson says:

    Quite thought-provoking! So thankful you have those peaceful mentors. P

  2. Rose Mathews says:

    I am facing aging with a great sense of freedom. With that said, I am not truly able to explain that any further other than I feel free from the fear of aging. I am there, here, I am aging and I feel good. I have had to face some of my worst fears, survived, and feel the stronger for it. I have had great mentors to help me along the way. There was Jane (you may remember her, Rich – Jane Peckham), there was my grandmother, “Ama”, Dolores, and my mother (oddly enough, I never thought of her as one until now – in my old age – and I miss her terribly). Then there were great friends and my husband who are gone now, to a better place, one day to meet again. Now, I am blessed to have my children as my friends and. . . mentors? Hmm… you give one lots to think about, Rich!

  3. rick azar says:

    I finally watched a four hr documentary on Nazis, well done by the BBC and well supported, use of all sorts of archives. One feels the innumerable sources has finally rendered a very interesting picture of the rise and fall of you-know-who. AND it took till I was fifty-seven to be able to face these events. So I am on course by speaking of the Nazis, iie, my age has finally given me the strength to, well, endure the specters of ethnic cleansing and such unthinkable evils…why more thinkable now? In the words of Karl Jaspers, german psychiatrit who witnessed it, “its possible it can happen again, anytime, and instantly”, ie, its a fearsome thing, but with some maturity that age brings, we can perhaps admit that we are the problem. thats what KJ said. As a youth, this realization isnt possible.

  4. Michele says:

    Hmmm, you always get me to thinking Rich. On one hand, I am excited that God is gracing me with new insights each and every day. I am growing every day and though I am not as far along as I would like to be at this age of my life, I am not where I was either. Growth continues. But, on the other hand, I am not happy to be losing my youth. My vanity is taking it hard but I am looking forward to the day when my wisdom will out-weigh my pride. I am also looking forward to gray hair but just wish it will behave itself as it comes in. Seems to want to be a rebel renegade. Hmmmm, maybe I do still have some vestiges of my youth. 🙂

  5. Winston peters says:

    I am growing old and have a freedom from pariona .my girlfriend narda died last Saturday ,she was on life support for 8 or 9 days peaceful very peaceful death ,don’t know but no wake or funeral as of yet ,I dearly loved the women a few months over 75 ,we were real good friends ,I always took a little treat kit Kay bar ,the last two times I went to see her she said don’t want any more treats.i think she was going to tell me that there was ,that she sick ,I went to my sisters after the visit and the next afternoon ,I got a call ,from her lodge saying they took her to the ICU ,no communication with her for the next 8 days ,then her brother called to say they were taking away her life support ,she had infection in her blood and had bowel problems ,she had also the scrament for the sick ,thank you for letting me reply winston

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