From Spelling God with Two O’s:

Time has its way with everything. All things fall apart. Even galaxies are reduced to dust. Illness, accident and wear take their toll in the steady abrasion that spares none. While modern advances may reduce some of the ravages of time, still we grow old. The challenge of being elderly is to avoid growing bitter or angry.

As children we learn, as adults we are productive, and in old age there is wisdom to be imparted to the young. The burden that today’s elderly face is a world-changing so rapidly that what was once useful often is no longer so. It is easy for aged people to be seen as irrelevant and therefore objects of scorn, reluctantly accepted and viewed as a burden. However, the proper role of the elderly is to show the way to what is important, to point to a life of value.

There is wisdom to be gleaned from old people who have lived wisely, there is courage to be gained from those who face their own mortality courageously, there is joy to be learned from those who never cease learning and find joy in existence.


5 thoughts on “Aging

  1. This post made me reflect on the life of my grandfather–although he was never an astounding success, he worked hard to support his family, was loving and gentle, believed strongly in the values his faith accorded him. He had a long and extraordinarily painful death 7 years ago, and yet throughout he never complained, showed incredible courage, and always made an attempt to be present for those of us who were there at the hospital with a smile. He continues, in death, to inspire me with that courage. And yet, it pains me to reflect on how he was treated at the end by nurses and those in his “rehabilitation” center–like garbage to be discarded. What are the obligations of those of us who are younger to our elders? I struggle with this question. Do we have the obligation to take in our fathers/mothers/ grandparents when they are ill or is putting them in a home acceptable? Is it okay to move at least 5 hours away from our family? What is the balance between individual happiness and the collective family good?

    • These are profound question. There are situations in which a nursing home is better than staying with one’s children. And there are times in which parents retiring far away from their children makes sense.
      I think that real happiness comes from good relationships. And good relationships are based upon mutual obligations and respect. From that starting point, people work out different ways of coping with the ravages of old age.

  2. Thank you for the reply:) I think you are right that happiness comes from good relationships where respect, mutual obligations, and I would add love/enjoyment of each other are the foundation of these relationships. Knowing where one’s obligations end to one’s elders is so tricky, especially if there has been a strong relationship based on respect/ love. We can’t give up our lives to those who are dying, and yet to think of them suffering even a few minutes alone is heartbreaking and guilt-producing. On the opposite end of the spectrum, where there hasn’t been a good relationship, yet I feel there is in most instances a measure of obligation one has and this too can be difficult to define! I think the best thing that can be done, perhaps, is for parents to have serious end-of-life discussions with their children before it becomes necessary–for them to let their children know their wishes, to ease their minds about certain types of care.

  3. When I was Leader of the Ethical Humanist Society, I would encourage these discussions with me and create a folio with information. I would also encourage people to have similar discussions with children and spouses.

  4. After the Terry Schiavo case you wisely encouraged your college students to write an advance directive that spelled out their wishes in case of tragedy. I did so and gave it to my husband and told my parents about it. It amazed me how much my mentioning the document truly disturbed them–they didn’t want to talk about it! My father actually started crying, even though I explicitly said “of course we won’t need this, but just to have it…” This taboo of talking about death should be ended!

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