I once described a man as “older” and he snorted: “I am old.”
This was true, but graduate school had some bad effects and one is a difficulty labeling anyone anything. Slaves are enslaved people. The sick are people who are not well. This madness can be justified, but after a point it obscures more than it illuminates.
The best case is with nouns like slave. Being a slave is bad and to call a man a slave better be deserved. A man can deserve to be called “slave,” but even the man who has enslaved himself to vice is not merely a slave. There is more to him than that and if I am not very careful I will reduce him to his slavery.
Still there are other hard words, like “old,” that are simply true of a man. If you are eighty, then you are not in the spring-time of your life . . . the bluebird of happiness may sing outside your door, but generally he is harder to hear, see, and recall.
Few wish to get old, though it beats the only real alternative, but as I get old I am learning from the old that there are good things about it.
Being old means being nearly done. If you have lived a good life, given what you had to God, then you are nearly done “fighting the good fight” and “running the race.” Even if the body did not slow down, I have learned from the old that one gets tired of humanity as it is. Problems don’t really change and it is harder to get “excited” about the present Big Thing when one has been defrauded several times in the past by years of Big Things that weren’t.
Many of the old have, therefore, a calm perspective on change. The best old I know are like Tolkien’s Ents: they can be fierce when roused, but only real problems or virtues rouse them.
The best of the old have also taught me what is valuable. They love work and keep doing it as they can. They embrace valuable work having neither the time, ability, or desire to keep climbing social ladders. An old man will Eastwood all day if you will let him.
This is refreshing, mostly.
The old can give up on being “attractive” and simply go one being beautiful. Any human could do it, but society puts pressure on all of us to conform to certain images of beauty. As a man or woman gets older this gets harder to do without sheer absurdity and all but the greatest fools finally quit. I am assured that this is a wonderful moment in a person’s life.
Time doesn’t make you wise, but wisdom requires time. Some old people I know are wise and it makes me long to be like they are. Of course that means I must make choices like they made now: restraining and moderating passions, living honestly, continuing to learn and grow.
The old give me hope, but also a dose of reality. It is not “fun” to be old. It can be very hard, since dying (as the Church has always said) is a difficult test. But the old Christians I know die well. They die hopeful and their deaths have meaning. They don’t pretend pain doesn’t hurt and they don’t feign dignity, they have it.
The old Faithful don’t defy the years, they embrace them, and so transcend them. They go to the next world to become older still, but never again to experience gratuitous pain, sorrow, or suffering.