I suppose that my being officially classified as a “Senior Citizen” is not the end of anything. After all, seniors do graduate.

As a senior citizen, at the beginning of my winding down and before my graduation to the next phase of existence, I refuse at present to lose a step, unless it is taken from me by force.

I will drive my tractor and use my chain saw and trim the pasture and till the gardens until I no longer find it joyful to do so. I joke with fellow elders about getting in touch with my “inner codger,” and share stories about the strangeness of pretending to be grandparents, as if we were really old enough to have grandchildren in college.

Most days, my morning mirror tells me all I want to know—that the young lifeguard’s nervous query about whether I am just resting between laps or am struggling to stay afloat is probably warranted. Certainly there is little I value about theories of aging. I will bequeath those to academics, to gerontologists, to sociologists and such. Yet, instead of benefitting from associations with those like me waiting to board the last train, society seems to have settled on an aggregate contempt for this vital segment of our society, of which I am now officially a part.

Contempt for Aging—and the Aged

It is understandable why we feel contempt for aging and for the aged. We would rather not accept this fact as inevitable. We would rather think that through careful diet, regular exercise, and skillful surgeons, we can look and feel much the same in old age as we did in youth. We can even sign up for spare parts if some major bodily mechanism malfunctions or becomes irreparably damaged—hips, knees, hearts, livers, lungs.

We may gaze at the flawless beauty of some starlet and feel certain that age will never conquer that luminescent glow, those shining locks, that silken skin, those bright young eyes. We have become convinced by television ads and drugstore periodicals that with special emollients and skillful surgeons, with exotic juices from berries gleaned from treetops in South American, the fair maiden actually can retain that youthful shape and hue. We agree so long as we do not by chance discover a picture of these once ageless beauties in a state of inevitable decline, when sutures and creams, when nips and tucks no longer sustain the outer miracle of that all too brief a span:

Mortal charm shall fade away, roses shall give way to thorns, and beauty and youth shall live their day and be no more. But that which eternally endureth is the Beauty of the True One, for its splendour perisheth not and its glory lasteth for ever; its charm is all-powerful and its attraction infinite. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 204.

The Futility of Warring with Nature

We cannot defeat the laws of nature regarding aging any more than we can defeat the law of gravity. If we jump, we will fall. If we live, we will age. This fact was demonstrated painfully to me recently while scanning the web on the subject of aging. I came across a picture of Brigitte Bardot, the Angelina Jolie of my youth. I remembered her as an inviolable beauty, a nymph who I was quite certain would ever remain impervious to Time. But there she was at age seventy-two, but a few years older than I, side-by-side with the self I had known and cherished.

And yet, in spite of my fear of ALF’s and my sadness at seeing that even the most beautiful among us cannot prevail against the laws of nature, I have determined to my own satisfaction that aging is the Creator’s second best training device, the first being the metaphorical nature of physical reality itself.

Contemplating all this, I’ve learned that God has given us the slow metronome of time and the aging that goes with it to train us in detachment. As we grow older, more wrinkled and hopefully wiser, our youthful beauty inevitably fades. That gradual diminishment of the physical graces teaches us—if we’re paying attention—that only the inner spiritual graces have any permanence, that only the beauty of the True One lasts forever.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

6 Comments

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  • Meg Keppler
    May 14, 2017
    When I look at someone, old or young, what strikes me as beauty and draws me to that person is a beautiful spirit that shines through them. The older folks have had more opportunities to develop that spirit. As a woman closer to 70 than 60 I am not looking at my life as winding down. Rather I see all the great adventures ahead of me. I get to move forward with whatever wisdom I have been able to gain through my years, knowing that I am more prepared than ever before to live the full and beautiful ...life I have been blessed with. What gifts lie ahead!
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  • Khalilah A
    May 12, 2017
    This is one of the most honest, truthful and best article i have ever read on aging. Thank you!
  • Rosslyn and Steven Osborne
    May 12, 2017
    I have often wondered as a child why some seem to suffer more than others or linger on for years before passing away to the next world. I struggled with the prolonged agonising death of my mum at 41, leaving us 6 children, I was 8. We would not have allowed our dog to have suffered so. This was a huge struggle for me to understand.
    Years later as I understood a little more of what God wants and we want were two vastly different things.
    On becoming a Baha'i in the mid 1990s I have learnt so much ...more, but your series has enhanced this even more to me now in my mid 60s. Thank you very much John.
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  • Melanie Black
    May 11, 2017
    John, I found this a wonderfully thoughtful, wise article. All the potions, diets, exercises, surgeries, and so on that people become obsessed with and that society markets to its older citizens plays to elders' fears of aging and death. Noticing all this, I promised myself I would do only what would make me healthy enough to serve God. I dyed my hair all the time when in my 50's, but now in my 60's have given it up. Why bother? My mother is 87 and infirm, but she continues to work everyday as an artist and is a wonderful ...and beautiful soul. She's my role model. She became a Baha'i in the early 50's and has seen much over the years.
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  • Linda Gillette
    May 11, 2017
    Thank you for your wonderful insights, John. Now in my 70's, I find that dwelling on my mortality does nothing to enliven my life, but continuing to focus on service to my community makes the aging process very much beside the point. What a bounty to have the time, patience and hopefully some wisdom to work with our neighborhood children, to love them and help them grow into shining lamps and brilliant stars.
  • May 11, 2017
    Thank you for highlighting the subject as more needs to be expressed on this most vital subject. This article helps my own transition into being older and hopefully wiser by the journey of life and it's many lessons along the way.