Seeing the Beauty in Old Age
The Classic story of a Man from Mars who taught us how to love
In the book, 'Stranger in a Strange Land' by Robert Heinlein, I’ve paraphrased his description of sculptures by Rodin somewhat:
“A good artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl that she used to be. But a master such as Auguste Rodin portrays her as she is and forces you to see the lovely girl she used to be.
And more than that, he can make anyone see that this pretty young girl lives, not old and wrinkled at all, but simply imprisoned inside her old body.
The beauty that still resides in old bodies is moving, and perhaps those dealing with pain and aging can look at the sculpture and be empowered."
Auguste Rodin - The Old Courtesan
Do you Wonder about the Memories the Old Person Holds?
Advancing years can give one a cloak of invisibility, yes you may stand aside or give up a seat but, as a young person, do you actually engage in conversation with someone in their 80’s?
Do you ever wonder what lies under the silence and solitariness an old person carries with them? Do you look and wonder if there were lovers, or just one great love?
If there were children 50 – 55 years ago, where are they now? Did they travel to other countries, did tragedy befall them, did they flee many years ago from iron discipline, or do those eyes hold warmth and generosity toward those they love.
Perhaps there are no children, a private heart wrenching tragedy that softened into acceptance with time? Or was the choice not to have children, a hard fought victory against what was normal at that time, the decision sometimes tinged with regret?
Did he cheat with another and was never forgiven or did the partner lose a long battle with disease?
Our society must make it right and possible
for old people not to fear the young
or be deserted by them,
for the test of a civilization
is the way that it cares
for its helpless members.
Pearl S. Buck
Afraid to Acknowledge our Frailty?
We are frightened to lose our minds, scared of illness, of becoming a burden, of needing help; despite research constantly reminding us that those who are unafraid and are positive about ageing actually stay healthier longer.
Psychologically we see older people as different to ourselves, yet in China and Japan this mortality underlines respect for and value of the elderly and their knowledge is cherished. The prevalence of depression and dementia is far lower in countries where this culture is the norm.
As we get older, we do get happier as we focus on positive events and the bad ones are forgotten or put aside. Negative events are also just shrugged off and we move on – why, because we know it’s a part of life and it only makes a difference if you let it. So we don’t make a song and dance act out of problems, we just get on with it.
Age should be brought out of the shadows, we must stop averting our eyes, as in its depths is courage and the beauty of wisdom, perseverance, of sacrifice and acceptance. It brings the knowledge of how young we are and how short life is, and just as we realise how much we know, we are shown the door, and shuffle off to the next.
Old People are Awesome
We don't stop to notice their spirit
Old people are high-spirited and joyful - but we don’t notice because we are too busy running around. They take the time to see and smell the roses. Much the same as a child experiences the world for the first time and expresses joy, so the aged have the time to appreciate every part of every day that they have left. They can teach us to be receptive to all there is to see.
When we talk about our elderly parents, it becomes difficult to distance oneself and see your parents as people, who faced obstacles and trouble, and dealt with it the best way they could at the time. Your parent’s failings can be looked at in context once you are aware of what the previous generation, your grandparents,
It would be great if we could all age in place, which is defined as "the ability to live in one's own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level."
And we could all do this, because the people around, cared enough to talk to the aged, treated them with respect and kindness, and offered assistance when help was asked for.
Enrich your own Life
I know how much I missed my grandparents when they died. There were questions I still wanted to ask them, memories I still wanted to delve into.
My Grandfather was born in 1900, imagine the history and changes he had lived through.
Ask these questions in your circle of elders and the answers may enrich your understanding of them and improve areas of your own life.
- What are the most important lessons you learned over the course of your life?
- What advice would you give your younger self?
- What advice would you give to others about growing older?
- What mistakes did you make that you would advise others against making?
- If you could raise your children over again, what would you do differently?
- What lessons did you learn from stressful situations?
- Were there key points in your life or an important decision made that changed its course.
How the world has changed in the last 100 years.
Beautiful Old Age – A poem by DH Lawrence
It ought to be lovely to be old
To be full of the peace that comes of experience
And wrinkled ripe fulfillment.
The wrinkled smile of completeness that follows a life
Lived undaunted and unsoured with accepted lies
They would ripen like apples, and be scented like pippins
In their old age.
Soothing, old people should be, like apples
When one is tired of love.
Fragrant like yellowing leaves, and dim with the soft
Stillness and satisfaction of autumn.
And a girl should say:
It must be wonderful to live and grow old.
Look at my mother, how rich and still she is!
And a young man should think: By Jove
my father has faced all weathers, but it's been a life!
"30 Lessons for Living"
In a book called ’30 lessons for Living,' written by Karl Pillemer a Professor of Human Ecology at Cornell and a gerontologist. His over 1000 interviews with old people condensed into 30 lessons of advice on what they did right or wrong in their very long lives.
A summary is as follows:
A marriage that lasts a lifetime is a result of sharing the same basic values and goals, an abiding friendship, commitment, communications and a give and take approach.
No one died wishing they had worked harder to make more money. The most important thing is to be doing something you absolutely love, and don’t stop looking until you find it.
Spend time with your children, share in their activities and instill important values.
It is both an attitude and a process, so don’t waste time worrying about it. Every minute of every hour of every day, we are all going the same way. Even those with severe chronic illnesses enjoyed a sense of calm and contentment. Each decade offers opportunities that weren’t there before.
Always say yes to an invitation, and many of those interviewed found more freedom to enjoy activities and relationships in senior living communities.
Favour honesty and embrace new challenges. Travel as much as you can when you are young – travel should take preference over everything else.
Almost everyone viewed happiness as a choice not a result of your life. You are in control of your attitude and your reaction to the things that happen to you in your life."
- Do yourself a favour and try to see the beauty that lies in an old face, the stillness, serenity and the life that has been lived for over 8 decades. The regrets, the joys, the fun, and the pleasure now found in the treasure of living each minute of each day they are given.