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Accepting our aging

Golda Meir, the former Prime Minister of Israel, once said, “Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you’re aboard, there’s nothing you can do.” That wise, old Jewish leader had it right.

Many Americans, however, frantically try to do all sorts of things to deny aging. They try botox, hair dyes, spas, fad diets and plastic surgery. This column is a plea to all of us to grow up and accept the inevitable. Growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional. (And I’ll admit that dyeing hair – for women anyway – has its beneficial place.)

There is a joke in India about a man going to a barber and asking, “Do you have anything for gray hair?” “Yes,” the barber says, “respect!” Society often fails to respect old age. Perhaps that’s one reason why we so desperately seek to deny it. Sadly, elders have lost their honored place in our society.

There are natural stages in our lives. There is youth with all its energy and promise; there are the middle years, which the Hindus call the “householder years – the most difficult yoga of all,” with the unrelenting demands of earning a living and raising children. Then there is the autumn of life. A time to gather in and share the harvest of whatever gifts life has given us.

Some wag has said that , “Senescence begins and middle age ends, the day your descendants outnumber your friends.” As we age the number of descendants: grandchildren, great-grandchildren don’t trouble us; they delight us. But losing our contemporaries does trouble us. One by one, we see them die and we grieve them. We must accept their deaths peacefully, if sadly. It’s just the way it is.

Albert Camus, the French Nobel Prize winning author, who in the fall watched the leaves change color, said, “Autumn is a second spring, when every leaf is a flower.” There is a beauty in autumn, but there is also beauty in winter. Old age begins in the autumn of life, but in life’s winter it has already arrived with a vengeance.

We should peacefully accept that winter. It’s the stage of life, which prepares us to return to the Great Mystery from which we came.

Another Nobel prize winner the Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote, “The secret of a good old age is simply an honorable pact with solitude.” To peacefully accept our aging, instead of dieting we need prayer or yoga; instead of botox we need meditation, instead of plastic surgery we need, in stillness and quiet, to feed our souls. But we also need to get up from our prayer and do things that give us pleasure and joy..

Accepting our own aging is one thing, but we have to accept the aging of relatives and parents too. Sometimes children have great difficulty doing that. Perhaps because it reminds them of what lies in store for them down life’s finite road.

I end with a famous (if cheerfully hopeful) quote from the English poet Robert Browning.

“Grow old along with me!

The best is yet to be,

The last of life, for which the first was made.”

Retired from the administration at State University of New York at Fredonia, Daniel O’Rourke lives in Cassadaga. His columns once appeared regularly in the OBSERVER. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His book, “The Living Spirit” is a collection of his previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website www.danielcorourke.com/