Lessons from a long life

Becoming a golden-ager tends to happen when we’re not looking.

'LAUGHTER REALLY is the best medicine.' (photo credit: HABIBAH AGIANDA/FLICKR)
'LAUGHTER REALLY is the best medicine.'
(photo credit: HABIBAH AGIANDA/FLICKR)
‘The finest art, the most difficult to learn, is the art of living.”
It is often quoted that a beautiful young person is an accident of nature, but a beautiful old person is a work of art. This doesn’t refer to physical attributes like skillful cosmetics, stylish clothes or an elegant hairdo, but to how we have developed our inner resources. Like many things that grow lovelier with age, like ivory, wine, lace and even trees, it is possible to learn virtues that we are too busy to practice in our youth, when we’re engaged in a headlong rush through life.
Becoming a golden-ager tends to happen when we’re not looking. The years after 50 seem to pass so much more rapidly, and often the signposts – silver in the hair, lines around the eyes and mouth, some pains in the joints – cause us distress. Even though we might love being grandparents, no one wants to be categorized automatically as “old.” Everything is relative, and I once had a friend in her 80s who was the youngest person I’d ever met. Rose was full of enthusiasm, involved and committed, with a wonderful grasp of current affairs, a wicked sense of humor and a delight to be with. She was even looking for another husband, and found one, telling me: “I don’t want a sick old man I’ll have to nurse. I want someone strong and romantic!”
I learned a lot from her and others of her peers that served me well as I entered the “golden age” period myself.
Laughter really is the best medicine. It’s been compared to jogging on the inside.
When the pace of life slows down, we have time to pause and smell the flowers; look for the dewdrop in the heart of the rose; marvel at the sunset and the night sky strewn with stars, like diamonds tossed on to black velvet.
Creativity often flourishes. There was once a famous Japanese painter, Hokusai, who at the age of 75 wrote: “All that I have produced before the age of 70 is not worth taking into account. At 73, I learned a little about the real structure of nature, of animals, plants, trees, birds, fishes and insects. In consequence, when I am 80, I shall have made still more progress. At 90, I shall penetrate the mystery of things; at 100 I shall certainly have reached a marvelous stage, and when I am 110, everything I do, be it a dot or a line, will be alive.”
He died in 1849 at the age of 89, but to the end of his days his wisdom was revealed in continuing to meet new challenges and by celebrating life.
Robert Browning, in “Rabbi Ben Ezra,” wrote:
“Grow old along with me, 
The best is yet to be.”
If couples can weather the stormier years, very often this later relaxed stage of life and retirement can be the richest time of all, freed from many responsibilities and day-to-day anxieties.
The Bible tells us in Genesis that Methuselah lived 969 years. Not many of us are that ambitious, but with the wonder of modern medicine and ongoing scientific discoveries, we are no longer limited to “three score years and 10” and, if we are lucky, can optimistically look forward to a longer and healthier life than previous generations.
In my own journey through life, the most important lesson I’ve learned is not to place too much value on material things. They are transitory, and cannot compare with true friends and family, who continue to love you even though they understand your weaknesses and failures. We should find fulfillment in our work, whatever it may be, and have a mind unafraid to travel. We have been given great gifts of natural and man-made beauty in this world, and we should be grateful for them. A sense of humor is also a great gift, for where there is laughter, there is love.
May we always have the wisdom to know and appreciate all our blessings. In our golden years, how truly rich we are!
The writer, aged 87, is the author of 14 books. Her latest novel is Searching for Sarah. [email protected]