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OK! Let’s tell the truth—by most cultural standards I am old, or, using the kinder euphemism, a senior citizen.
In the United States, when one reaches retirement age it brings many offers in the mail–magazines for seniors, burial and cremation services, style-free clothes catalogs, and assistive equipment. These are the icons of advancing age. I remember when I started receiving these mailings and wondered if they had been delivered to the right address. Frankly I didn’t feel old at the time and still don’t, unless I see myself in the vanity mirror with the LED lights—which should be banned for anyone over 65.
We “seniors” have raised our children, maybe helped with grandchildren, who have reached the point where they’ve become the independent people we raised them to be. What our offspring previously needed from us in physical and emotional energy is no longer required to steady the ship of childhood and adolescence, as they have now reached adulthood. We realize these treasured children now have a life of their own to live, and hopefully will make a place for us in it.
I have come to believe that these specialized “senior” mailings bestow on all receivers the necessary credentials to be an expert on aging, and the associated pitfalls—so I would like to offer some insights that have helped me, and will hopefully prove helpful to my age-appropriate comrades out there. Don’t scoff, younger comrades, for age swiftly slips up on everyone, if they’re lucky.
The Baha’i teachings affirm that we will all grow old eventually, and offer a remedy:
Soon will our handful of days, our vanishing life, be gone, and we shall pass, empty-handed into the hollow that is dug for those who speak no more; wherefore must we bind our hearts to the manifest Beauty, and cling to the lifeline that faileth never. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 268.
Of course, it’s not news that life is short and that we can’t take it with us–even if we arrange to be buried in our car. However, Abdu’l-Baha’s advice reminds us to order the priorities in our lives, to cling to a lifeline that prompts us to spend time doing meaningful things in preparation for the next life. That spiritual focus won’t reverse the aging process, but it does have the ability to energize us and keep our hearts and spirits alive with enthusiasm and love.
Relevance is Key
I sometimes wonder if relevance is the main issue fueling depression for so-called seniors. In her 90s, my grandmother Nora crocheted tablecloths, afghans, and bedspreads for all her many children and grandchildren. This was her way of being relevant, of serving her family by gifting them with her beautiful, useful creations. They displayed her love for all to see. In a culture consumed with youth or at least looking young, a sad aspect of aging is feeling overlooked, less heard, and not relevant in the world. But I’m here to tell you—there is a remedy for this condition.
Just Keeping Busy is not Enough to Feel Relevant
Busy is good, but not the busy that simply keeps you active without feeding your spirit. Being busy and feeding your spirit at the same time will give you a sense of relevance—and how we do this can best be understood from the second part of that quotation from the Baha’i teachings:
We must gird ourselves for service, kindle love’s flame, and burn away in its heat. We must loose our tongues till we set the wide world’s heart afire and with bright rays of guidance blot out the armies of the night, and then, for His sake, on the field of sacrifice, fling down our lives. – Ibid.
We feel relevant, engaged and vital when we are not just doing something for ourselves, but when it involves service to others. Got problems? Help someone with bigger problems, and your loving service will put it all in perspective. We can “fling down our lives” in a living sacrifice to humanity, and discover the difference between existing and living.
Whatever we leave behind when we die, I think most of us want it to be a legacy that is worthy of our humanity. Abdu’l-Baha reminds us that:
There is no greater result than bonds of service in the divine Kingdom and attainment to the good pleasure of the Lord. Therefore, I desire that your hearts may be directed to the Kingdom of God, that your intentions may be pure and sincere, your purposes turned toward altruistic accomplishment unmindful of your own welfare; nay, rather, may all your intentions center in the welfare of humanity, and may you seek to sacrifice yourselves in the pathway of devotion to mankind. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 55.
Don’t Wind Down, Burn Up
I don’t know about you, but winding down does not have great appeal for me. I’d rather burn away in love’s heat, and help lay the foundation for God’s Kingdom on earth. Whatever your Faith, we can all agree on the value of service. For me, no matter what popular culture has to say about aging, I’ll start thinking about it when I start feeling old.
I think I can avoid it if I stay away from those LED lights. Sure, scan the “senior” magazines and mailings for useful information, detail your car if that’s your thing, and make all appropriate preparations for your journey to “infinity and beyond.” Then, put it all away and serve humanity. It’s good for the soul and I promise you’ll feel relevant!