Wisdom is the sum of the reflective and reflexive understandings that settle deep in one’s soul after a long journey — a life adventure peppered with laughter, tears, fear, foolishness, joy, doubt, amazement and wonder. Pay attention to those who have traveled before you. Ask questions and listen with your whole being. Like echoes in a canyon, the lessons will continue whispering their meaning.
What follows is Part II of a five-part essay on health and wellness for seniors.
“I enjoy talking with the Chronologically Superior, for they have gone before us, as it were, on a road that we too may have to tread, and it seems to me that we should find out from them what it is like and whether it is rough and difficult or broad and easy.”
– Socrates, in Plato, “The Republic”
Yeah, yeah. Okay, you got me. Plato’s Republic quotes Socrates as saying, “…really old men” and not, “…the Chronologically Superior,” but, hey, I’m trying to make a point here…
Here are a few of the age-related factoids that show up on the internet:
- George Bernard Shaw completed “Heartbreak House” at the age of 60.
- J. R. R. Tolkien was 62 when he published the 1st volume of “Lord of the Rings.”
- Benjamin Franklin, at the age of 70, helped draft the Declaration of Independence.
- Cornelius Vanderbilt began buying railroads after he turned 70.
- John Glenn, at the age of 77, became the oldest person (CS) to fly in outer space.
- Jessica Tandy and George Burns were both 80 years old when they won Oscars.
- Coco Chanel was the CEO of a design firm at the age of 85.
- Mother Theresa, at the age of 87, was attending to the needs of the poorest of the poor.
- Grandma Moses, at 88, was named “Young Woman of the Year” by “Mademoiselle” magazine.
- Picasso was still producing drawings and engravings at 90.
Of course, advanced age brings physical and intellectual challenges—as does each of Shakespeare’s seven ages—but there are also “Members Only” joys and opportunities reserved for those with a CS attitude.
“Swept by the current of the four powerful rivers,
Tied by strong bonds of karma, so hard to undo.
Caught in the iron net of self-grasping,
Completely enveloped by the darkness of ignorance.”
– Lama Tsongkhapa
What’s it all about Alfie?
It’s all about “The Dash,” that’s what. Death is Not a Curable Disease.
Okay, one more time, here’s the deal: you’re going to die. We all are. As I’ve said before, I’m sorry if that comes as a shock; and more sorry if you know this but prefer to consider it at a later time. That notion…that we can deny, ignore or defer the reality of death is dangerous, futile, wasted opportunity and the height of hubris. Once conceived, all of us reading these pages will ride the four raging rivers of birth, ageing, illness and death. Awareness, acceptance, compassion for our fellow travelers and the ability to let go of attachments—to let it be, to go with the flow—will determine our level of suffering.
Here’s the really sad part. Many people, when they are healthy and vibrant and not in the personal throes of giving care to a loved one, accept the concept of death — a finite existence — only as an intellectual construct. Yes, sure, someday, someday, sure, but not now. Someday.
Fact: Most of us will not die in our sleep after a wonderful fun-filled day of (fill in the blank). For most of us there will be a period of illness before we die and, if you are fortunate enough to watch today’s children and their children grow, there will be the accompanying infirmities that come with time. To quote the Bard from As You Like It,
“…The sixth age shifts into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon, with spectacles on nose and pouch on side; his youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide for his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice, turning again toward childish treble, pipes and whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion; sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
— Jacques (Act II, Scene VII, lines 139-166)
So much for being delicate. Oh, and to be more intrusive, I’m going to shake you out of your slumber so that you can be fully awake before you die. Yes, that’s right, most of us are sleeping or shuffling along in that overcrowd village of Someday. Oh, please, you know the place, SOMEDAY. The place where, somehow, our once-upon-a-time-soaring-spirits, filled with determination, passion, and world-changing guts have landed, tail-tucked and whimpering for fear of … what? Oh, yeah, fear of not meeting someone else’s expectations of where we should be or what we should be doing.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can focus on the real issue, morbidity. Or, perhaps a better way of looking at it, the quality of the dash (-) that separates the date of your birth from the date of your death. The date of your birth is fixed and beyond your control. You are here, so open your eyes to all of it, the good, the bad and the truly ugly. The other date, your death, is inevitable and is simply a matter for the stonemason.
As they did about so many things, Joseph Campbell and Viktor Frankel spoke eloquently and passionately about the art of living — the dash. When asked, “What is the meaning of life?” Campbell would say, “There is no meaning of life. We bring the meaning to life.” He agreed with Frankel’s philosophy that sustained well-being (success, happiness) ensues from the honorable and enjoyable pursuit of meaningful goals.
Beyond the physical, the anxiety of ageing often spews from a gunnysack of wouldas, couldas and shouldas—a life of regrets. To those who have danced until their feet throb with joy, the quiet of old age is paradise. As Carl Jung once said, “An old man who cannot bear farewell to life appears as feeble and sickly as a young man who is unable to embrace it.”
“Eternity is that dimension of here and now that all thinking in temporal terms cuts off. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere.”
– Joseph Campbell
Part III: CS “Members Only” – Qualifications
Part IV: Caution – Your Workforce and Consumer Base Are Ageing
Part V: Summary – So What?