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Growing Older Gracefully

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By Consuelo E. Munar

“Old age is a natural part of life that is both active and contemplative, productive and reflective, and deeply rewarding.”

I am a member of the senior crowd  and I encourage my colleagues  to cherish the blessings of aging and overcome its challenges. Older age, otherwise called senior age, is a special period of life. It gives us freedom, wisdom and prosperity of a sort. Older age also enlightens – not simply ourselves but also those around us especially the younger generation.

Life is not about age, about the length of years we manage to eke out of it. Life itself is a precious gift from God and with that gift  comes the obligation to use what we have been given for the betterment of ourselves and others.  Life is about living into the values offered everyday, about growing older with grace.

E.M. Forster wrote, ” we must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”  He meant the period of older age is time to let go of both fantasies of eternal youth and fears of getting older in order  to find the beauty of what it means to age well. Older age is the time to understand that the last phase of life is not a non-life; it is a new stage of life.  These older years – reasonably active, mentally alert, experienced and curious, socially important and spiritually significant – are meant to be good years.

Canada, like the United States is a graying  population.  And we are also thriving. Scientists have discovered that older people, while not as quick computationally as younger people, we do think just as well as the young,  but differently – with more depth, with more reflection, with more philosophical awareness. The younger generation produce ideas in rapid quantity, but often without form. Older people reflect on the very same data younger people do and tend to reduce it to concepts.

With old age, seniors have a responsibility to mentor the generations after them in the values and ideals that built a society based on equality and  respect for others. We have the social responsibility to see life as a moral force.  It is a new experience in how to live life, how to draw goodness, energy, gratitude, and creativity. During the golden years, we continue to bring considerable skills and experience to bear on the present needs of humanity.  We will definitely become spiritually stronger, certainly become wiser,  and more than ever a blessing to the rest of society.

“The answer to old age is to keep one’s mind busy and to go on with one’s life as if it were interminable,” said Leon Edel.  For the past decade, many seniors continue to go on working – at something, for some reason, for someone, for something greater than themselves.  That is, in fact,  the very definition of a full life. When we go on giving ourselves away right to the very end, we have lived a full life. Retirement does not free us from the responsibility to go on tending the world. The work we do after we retire is not useless, valueless work, simply because it is not paid labor. What work will we do? And the answer to that is, whatever needs to be done where we are. There is hardly a school in the country that would not welcome volunteer tutors. Every nonprofit needs those who are willing to make the organization work without demanding to get paid.

The older years are for the development of the soul. These are the years we learn, perhaps, to paint, or go back to playing an instrument again, or visit nursing homes so that the people there, so many of them alone in the world, have someone to talk to about important things.  A blessing of these years is that they enable us to change our part of the world in ways that are expressive of us as they are good for others.

And what are we leaving behind? Primarily, we leave behind our attitude toward the world. We are remembered for whether or not we inspired others a love for life and an openness to all of those who lived it with us. We will be remembered for our smiles and frowns, for our laughter and for our complaints.  We will be remembered for our kindness and generosity; we will be remembered for our selfishness.

We leave behind the memory of the way we treated strangers, how we loved individuals closest to us, how we cared for those who loved us, how we spoke to them in hard times, how we gave ourselves away to satisfy their needs.  Our legacy is far more than our fiscal worth.


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