Too Soon Old


Well, it’s happened. Today is my sixty-fifth birthday.

For the last several years I’ve passed various people’s and institution’s markers for being older, and with this birthday, I’ve crossed ‘em all: I’m fully and officially old.

I like knowing I can blame this on Otto Von Bismark. My understanding is when Bismark was putting together the first old age pension for the united Prussian state in the last third of the nineteenth century he set on sixty-five for eligibility. Because, I gather, that was life-expectancy. So, while life-expectancy in the United States today is seventy-eight point sixty-four years, and Social Security’s admittedly somewhat simplistic calculator opines I should be prepared to live to be eighty-four point two years, what is inescapable is that I’m on the downhill slide. And it looks kind of steep from here…

Of course, who knows when. Or, as my friend Dosho Port sings from Melville, “Oh, woe on woe! Oh, Death, why canst thou not sometimes be timely?”

And with that sense of mortality other thoughts flow…

I think of that bread-board saying I’ve seen hanging in various kitchens proclaiming “too soon old, too late smart.” Most likely it has German origins, but the sentiment I suspect is held by the elderly across time and space.

I have to admit I’m not so sure about the arriving at smart, rather I’m awkwardly aware of how less smart I’ve been up to this moment.

Not quite the same thing.

But there is one thing…

Now from the moment we draw our first breath death is hanging in the background. Still, in my youth it seemed physically impossible to dwell on that reality in a visceral real actually right next to me reality. As we age, we begin to get it, and I think I got it at some visceral place a bit earlier than most. As the Unitarian Universalist theologian Forrest Church noted, religion is all about being alive and knowing you’re going to die. And, so matters spiritual have always, or pretty close to always, been of primary interest for me.

The Buddha summarized the deal in the Upajjhatthana Sutta in his five remembrances.

“I am of the nature to grow old; there is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill health; there is no way to escape having ill health.
I am of the nature to die; there is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature of change; there is no way to escape being separated from them.”

And now…

Well, I found the path that works for me a long time ago.

At its heart is that practice of sitting down, shutting up, and paying attention.

And then, when off the pillow, following the rest of the Buddha’s dictum in his five remembrances.

“My deeds ate my closest companions; I am the beneficiary of my deeds; my deeds are the ground on which I stand.”

And so…

Passing, passing.

How sad.

How beautiful.

And, I guess, seeing this, all of it, we’re all invited to write something on the passing stream…

  • silvio nardoni

    James:

    First, Happy Birthday!

    Second, my mother who lived to age 93, once told me that she didn’t become old until she reached her 90th birthday. Since this lies beyond the statistical range of “normal,” maybe that’s a better definition than the estimated life expectancy in Prussia more than a century ago (nitpick alert: Bismarck). The sense of “immortality” that often accompanies youth is both an observed fact, and perhaps an existential/ontological necessity. By having once had the feeling that life would not come to an end, we can take risks that the “wisdom” of our later years might caution against. To every season, then, there is a kind of “smarts” that doesn’t depend on being “old,” but comes from just sitting still and paying attention.

  • Cushing

    Cheer up James, you’re still a kid.

  • minkfoot

    Like Cushing, we scouts from further up the trail can tell you, there will be a time when 65 looks good!


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