“It is against reason to be burdensome to others, showing no amusement and acting as a wet blanket. Those without a sense of fun, who never say anything ridiculous, and are cantankerous with those who do, these are vicious, and are called grumpy and rude.”
A few fortunate senior citizens go on pretty much as usual with few parts out of order. But for the majority of us, aging exacts its toll. Solomon’s description of the process sums things up well:
“In old age, your body no longer serves you so well
Muscles slacken, grip weakens, joints stiffen.
The shades are pulled down on the world.
You can’t come and go at will. Things grind to a halt.
The hum of the household fades away.
You are wakened now by bird-song.
Hikes to the mountains are a thing of the past.
Even a stroll down the road has its terrors.
Your hair turns apple-blossom white,
Adorning a fragile and impotent matchstick body.”
The odd thing, however, is that most of us don’t feel old. Oh, there are days when we feel every one of our years; but in general there’s a vast disparity between the sight that confronts us in the mirror each morning and the young person that resides within. One of my favorite quotations from Fredrick Buechner’s Godric hangs in a place of honor over my desk and expresses my heartfelt sentiment: “Deep inside this wrecked and ravished hull there sails a young man still.” I’d like to keep that outlook to the end.
To think of all the things we used to do in the “good old days” and can’t do any more only makes a body feel worse. It’s much better to poke fun at oneself than grumble and complain. Arthritic joints, hearing and memory loss, failing eyesight are no fun, but we can survive them by managing to see them, among other things and despite all, as desperately funny.
There’s something delightful about old folks who keep their sense of humor. They’re a joy to be around. Like the 80-year-old gardener who, when asked how old he was, replied, “I’m an octogeranium.” You gotta love it! An old man with a young mind and a puckish wit, the kind of person you love to be around. So much better than a “grumpa.”
Some years ago I came across a printed message by Dr. W.H. Lax, a Methodist minister who worked among the poor of London in the 19th century. In this message he gives wise counsel to those in their sunset years.
The age of the body, apart from actual disease, depends upon the vital organs: the heart, lungs and the like. These are “set” for a certain period. They may get worn out, either by fair wear and tear, or, much sooner, by unfair wear and tear. You cannot help that.
But you can control the age of your mind. You can, if you face life in the right spirit, keep the mind young almost indefinitely. And remember that the mind controls the activities and energies of all the rest of the body. It is the supreme organ. If you let the mind grow old, the body will grow old also.
How are you to keep the mind young? The most important thing is to cultivate a cheerful spirit, never allowing pessimism to gain the upper hand. Make up your mind to maintain a buoyant outlook on life. When the sun shines, let it shine on you. Gray days will come, but always think of the sunny days which must assuredly follow. Hang on to your sense of humor with both hands. The older you grow, the more you will need it. Most of the neurotic wrecks one sees, and some of the mental ones, are the natural result of a morbid outlook on life.
And keep an open, active mind. You cannot keep the mind young if you persist in looking at the gloomy side, or in closing it to new ideas, muffling it up in prejudices and stifling its enthusiasms. It is losing the thrill and zest of life that makes a man old. He doesn’t lose the thrill because he is old; he becomes old because he has lost the thrill. The moment a person loses his sense of wonder at the beauty of a sunset, or the glory of heroism and self-sacrifice, or the intricate markings on a butterfly’s wing, or the marvels of science, he becomes old.
How can we gain and keep that perspective? Well … it is an attitude, a concomitant of a special kind of joy, a joy that G.K. Chesterton called “the gigantic secret of the Christian.” Jesus, he said, “satisfies perfectly,” so that “joy becomes gigantic and sadness becomes special and small.” (Orthodoxy, “Authority and the Adventurer”)
Faith puts its trust in God’s wise providence, His compassionate, kindhearted care, His unfailing love, His promise that someday He will take us to be with Him forever. These are the truths that satisfy and sustain us, that enable us to rise joyfully each morning, whatever we have to face throughout the day.
Israel’s prophet, Habakkuk, put it this way:
“Though the cherry trees don’t blossom,
and the strawberries don’t ripen,
Though the apples are worm-eaten
and the wheat fields stunted,
Though the sheep pens are sleepless,
and the cattle barns empty,
I’m singing joyful praise to God.
I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior.”
David and Carolyn Roper co-direct the work of Idaho Mountain Ministries, a ministry of clergy care. David is the author of 14 books, the most recent: “Teach Us To Number Our Days.” His musings are archived on davidroper.blogspot.com/
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.