I was in NYC recently, having a beer at the bar of an Upper West Side restaurant, when the woman sitting next to me and my wife engaged us in conversation. Her name was Helen Anderson and she had quite a story to tell.
Helen grew up in the South and moved to New York City in her 20’s, becoming the first African-American flight attendant for Eastern Airlines. She later moved on to a career selling real estate, and was now looking forward to a third career. She had just signed up for the Peace Corps and was waiting for her assignment. One more thing: Helen proudly told me she is 78-years old. (Picture below.)
“Being your age means letting people know the number of your years.”
The quote above is from Thomas Moore, writing in his book Ageless Soul. Moore points out that even if we don’t outright lie about our age, we often try to downplay it. We might say, “I’m 50, but I feel like 40,” or “I’m 60, but today that’s the new 50.” Moore advises us that:
People may think you’re younger than you are and you may be tempted to avoid telling then the truth. Here’s a principle to guide you: If you simply acknowledge your age and give no attention to all the fears and temptations to qualify what you feel about getting old, you will have the freedom to keep your youth.
Moore believes that “keeping your youth requires that you acknowledge your exact age without any wavering.” Being young at heart also means having an optimistic outlook on life and presenting your true self to the world. When you fib about your age it often signals a dissatisfaction with the course of your own life and a failure to come to terms with the present moment.
Moore points out that the most common problems he sees among his therapy clients is their resistance to the flow of life. Too often people want to stop or rewind the clock, when we all know that there is nothing we can do to stop the march of time. Here, Moore quotes advice from the Tao Te Ching:
Life moves along by letting things take their course.
It does not move along if there is interference.
Maybe we need a new way to look at aging.
In his book Falling Upward, Richard Rohr provides us with a unique way to look at life. Rohr sees life as being split into two distinct stages: building our container and finding its contents. Some of us are building our container all the way through to retirement, at which point we can discover the contents the container was meant to hold. Looked at this way, the “second half” of life may not commence until you are in your 60s.
Additional wisdom on aging comes from a passage in the book Wisdom from the World’s Religions, where John Templeton quotes the author Martha Smock as saying:
Age is a matter of consciousness, and the truth about your age is that in Spirit, you are neither old nor young. You are a spiritual creation, and you are on a continuing journey of life. You have much behind you but you have much before you.
The fact we have much ahead of us can be true even as we grow older, despite the aches and pains and occasional lapses of memory that can come with age. As Thomas Moore says:
You are not your body, you are the sum of your experiences. You have a soul, the river of vitality from which your life flows, a tributary of a much grander soul of the world. Your soul is ageless.
It seems fitting to close this piece with a quote from Satchel Page, who at the age of 59 became the oldest pitcher to play in Major League Baseball. In his words:
Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
Are you becoming more and more aware of your advancing age? Do you wonder if you’re making the most of your life—or fear that the best years of your life may be behind you? For additional thoughts on aging, see my previous Wake Up Call story: