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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.