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Growing Old: Act Now or Regret it Later

Rodney Richards | Aug 23, 2022

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Rodney Richards | Aug 23, 2022

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Since growing up wild and loose as a kid on the inner-city streets of New Jersey’s capital city in the 1950s, I didn’t give much thought to what tomorrow might bring. 

Although poor in some ways, Mom provided my brother and me with everything necessary — love, food, clothes, and a Catholic school education. We didn’t know what rich meant, so never compared our lives to anyone else’s.

I survived childhood with the usual scratches, bruises, and a broken elbow from jumping off a high swing. Otherwise, fit and bright I passed my grades and entered an unfamiliar experience, public high school. With the freedom to experiment, I tried just about everything, legal and illegal. In 1969, I lived in a house with six guys and one girl. We named it Charenton after the French insane asylum. 

During the activism and turmoil of the changing 1960s, I stumbled across the teachings of Baha’u’llah by accident. It felt like what Abdu’l-Baha wrote:

O spiritual youth! Praise thou God that thou hast found thy way into the Kingdom of Splendors, and hast rent asunder the veil of vain imaginings, and that the core of the inner mystery hath been made known unto thee.

Because my spirit was open, I recognized both new and old truths. Baha’u’llah’s Faith gave me fresh energy and purpose, and I investigated further. Settling down with my high school sweetheart, we married ourselves as Baha’is in a national park in 1971. Together we had two children and served actively in Baha’i affairs and activities.

I tell you all this to show that I wasn’t always as stable and reliable as I am today. The Baha’i Faith and my loving wife sobered me up, and I advanced in a long career as a public servant managing contracts for the State of New Jersey worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Retiring in 2009, I started two businesses. One failed, and the other one flourished – I currently help writers edit, polish, and publish their work. 

I look back and am astounded at the small accomplishments I’ve made maintaining that adult stability and reliability, since I suffer from bipolar disease. God’s grace, my wife, able doctors and clinics, and a regimen of medicines have kept me from flying off in manic episodes.

Now, older, with mental faculties still intact, I admit, I’m slowing down. It’s like my past mentor once said, “What we give in our youth is gold. As we age, it turns silver, until finally, in our tomb, it is nothing but lead.” It’s been said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” How often we wish for our youthful powers and energy back!

But I don’t wish to repeat all the stupid things I did, or the poor decisions I made, or the opportunities I missed. Nowadays, I don’t know about you, but doctor’s visits and tests fill my calendar, some preventative but most for aches, pains, or downright ailments I can only hope to manage with attention or medication and exercise. A few are degenerative and will not improve or go away – the only hope is to slow their progression by following doctor’s orders.

The body, or at least whatever parts of it we can command, starts decomposing as we age, and we can only temporarily slow it down, if that. In this contingent world, this is natural and to be expected. In the first tablet he wrote to the Hague, Abdu’l-Baha explained it this way:

… consider the phenomenon of composition and decomposition, of existence and non-existence. Every created thing in the contingent world is made up of many and varied atoms, and its existence is dependent on the composition of these. In other words, a conjunction of simple elements takes place so that from this composition a distinct organism is produced. The existence of all things is based upon this principle. But when the order is deranged, decomposition is produced and disintegration sets in, then that thing ceases to exist. That is, the annihilation of all things is caused by decomposition and disintegration. 

Therefore attraction and composition between the various elements is the means of life, and discord and division produce death. Thus the cohesive and attractive forces in all things lead to the appearance of fruitful results and effects, while estrangement and alienation of things lead to disturbance and annihilation. Through affinity and attraction all living things like plants, animals and men come into existence, while division and discord bring about decomposition and destruction.

The elements in our bodies, like all created things, inevitably decompose. With proper treatment and care we may extend our lives, but quality may be compromised. We all know that life never lasts forever. Therefore, it behooves us to act while we can, when we can. There is no time to lose or waste.

In 1998 the Universal House of Justice wrote to the Baha’is of the world. In part their letter said:

In extolling the unprecedented potential of the twentieth century, [Abdu’l-Baha] averred that its traces will last forever. Seized with such a vision, the mind of the alert follower of [Baha’u’llah] must undoubtedly be astir with anxious questions as to what part he or she will play in these few fleeting years, and as to whether he or she will, at the end of this seminal period, have made a mark among those enduring traces which the mind of [Abdu’l-Baha] perceived. To ensure a soul-satisfying answer, one thing above all else is necessary: to act, to act now, and to continue to act.

The 20th century has passed. Individual and collective actions to achieve peace and unity in the world have never been needed more. Can we not do something before we turn to lead?

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