My early thoughts on aging were influenced by what was then mandatory retirement at 65. I recall several men in the vicinity of our neighborhood who retired….and promptly died. I had the impression that was the nature of aging: one quits work (quits being productive) and death follows. I wasn’t entirely wrong. When one’s identity is so tied to one’s work, retirement can engender a sense of uselessness and defeat that can contribute to an early death.
John Robinson, author of Bedtime Stories for Elders: What Fairy Tales Can Teach Us about the New Aging, writes that aging “is not a time of stasis, retreat, or simply decline. Rather, aging appears to be a profoundly transformational stage, a journey into an entirely new dimension of life.” Perhaps that would be more nearly accurate to say it is “not intended” to be a time of stasis. We are designed to keep growing but we may not always be able or willing to do so as we age.
However, “conscious aging,” the founder of Sage-ing International suggests, involves a “second maturity” that makes the years beyond sixty perhaps “evolution’s greatest gift to humanity.” In 1900 the average life span was forty-five and only four percent of the population was over sixty-five. Today, nearly 80 percent of people living in the United States will live to be past sixty-five. Robinson writes that everything we know about aging may be wrong or outdated.
This transformation Robinson describes as subtle. One of the clues that transformation is occurring is “moments of silence, stillness, and timelessness, when it seems as if the mystery of eternity is leaking into your everyday world; moment when time stops.” This brings to mind a poem my husband wrote on one birthday after he returned from a hike in the woods, which he has given me permission to share:
“My consciousness opened the windows of the world on this early December day.
The wind sang through the nearly naked branches of giant oak, rustling brown leaves in an ethereal rhythm of worship.
Transforming white clouds raced across the deep blue sky, chased by a warm south wind that gently caressed my cheeks in magnanimous embrace.
I breathed the freshness that permeates the forest after rain, and heard the perpetual song of water rushing into infinity.
I recognized that the peace of this moment is anchored in eternity.” Terry F. Stulce, December 2005.
Curiously, this was written on his sixtieth birthday, just as the founder of Sage-ing International mentioned the transformation tends to begin.
May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate
Hope’s Café Bonus: Father Richard Rohr writes, “Spiritual maturity is largely a growth in seeing; and full seeing seems to take most of our lifetime.” What do you now see in a different light than you did in the first half of life? What clues do you use to know when you might need to invite a different perspective?
(From Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life , A Companion Journal by Richard Rohr).