“Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age” (French Proverb).
ARE YOU AN “AGED” PERSON YET? Even if you are, you may not realize it. It’s true, as Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. said, “A person is always startled when he hears himself seriously called an old man for the first time.” It takes most of us about ten years to get used to being the age we are, and by that time, of course, we are well past that age. But if we have, in fact, reached old age, what is our attitude about that? Are we embarrassed? Resentful? Appreciative? Enthusiastic?
To be sure, there is no inherent value in age. When she was asked about having lived a long time, Katharine Hepburn said, “I have no romantic feelings about age. Either you are interesting at any age or you are not. There is nothing particularly interesting about being old — or being young, for that matter.” Neither youth nor age is anything we can take credit for. As Tom Wilson observed, “Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age. Sometimes age just shows up on its own.”
But normally, we do grow wiser as we age. That is something to be grateful for, and if we’re not there yet, it’s something to look forward to. In youth, we learn, but in age, we understand. And if we miss having the physical vitality of our younger days, it’s worth remembering this observation by Richard Needham: “It’s easier to have the vigor of youth when you’re old than the wisdom of age when you’re young.” After all, everybody in the world has been young, but not everybody has been old. What that means is that the old have two benefits — the benefit of having been young and the benefit of now being old. The young have only one of these . . . for the time being.
One thing is sure: age has a certain “definiteness” that youth does not. When we are young, our lives are filled mostly with possibilities, but as we age, the real characteristics of our lives begin to emerge. “A young boy is a theory; an old man is a fact” (Ed Howe).
Victor Hugo once wrote, “When grace is joined with wrinkles, it is adorable. There is an unspeakable dawn in happy old age.” I agree, and I would add that age is best seen as a goal. The years of our youth were not meant to be hoarded. They were meant to be spent!
“I can’t think of anything better to do with a life than to wear it out in efforts to be useful to the world” (Armand Hammer).