Aging with an Attitude

Aging with an Attitude

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

I am immensely inspired by what Pearl S. Buck, the author of The Good Earth fame and Nobel prize winner, had to say on her 80th birthday. It was published in the Modern Maturity magazine but I came across it through Earl Nightingale's Motivational Moments.

Many people are conditioned to think that after 65, one should sit down, relax and watch the rest of the world with amusement and pity as it goes through the motions of detestable jobs, demanding child-rearing and dreary household chores. Buck impresses me with her task-centeredness. She writes this note sitting at her worktable facing the window and saying, "I have much work to do and I enjoy myself and what I do."

As people advance into the senior years, many must deal with the loss of their spouses, friends and relatives and, yes, look in the eyes of that scary monster loneliness. After the death of a spouse, or seeing children or grandchildren move away, loneliness sometimes leads to depression and even death.

Fifty percent of the lone survivors of a marriage that has lasted at least 15 years, die within two years following the death of their spouse. Loneliness can be deadly in the literal sense of the word.

Now, read what Buck says about loneliness: "Now the children have married and gone their way. Their father has preceded me into the next stage of life, wherever it is, and so I'm alone." And yet, never alone. Around me is the village life. Here in my house is the life I find in books and music and above all in work."

Loneliness is a state of mind. Often, the feelings related to the loss of the loved ones and the sense of personal failure keeps us trapped in the snare of loneliness. Professor Stephen Hawking, the world- renowned Astrophysicist, can't move out of his wheelchair but stays connected with the whole universe.

The popular concept of retirement as an age of winding down and doing nothing can be injurious to health. Plan to live a more enjoyable, productive and a socially and spiritually fuller life. Old age is an opportunity to do the things you enjoy most without having to perform boring, meaningless and dull routines. Eliminate the redundant from your life.

Some might be thinking of arthritic knees and shoulders, heart problems, high blood pressure, cancer, varicose veins and other woes normally related with old age, and wondering how I can say that old age is an age of opportunity.

There is no doubt in my mind that if you grow older with the utmost positive attitude, physical woes would be less a nuisance.

To continue with Pearl Buck's thoughts about old age: "I don't know what people mean when they speak of being old. I don't know because I do not know where life begins and where it ends, if there is an end…. For me death is merely the entrance into further existence."

Buck goes on to expound her views on aging, "Young and old for me are meaningless words except as we use them to denote where we are in the process of this stage of being."

Want to go back to the days when you were younger and smarter? This is what Buck has to say about it, "Would I wish to be young again? No. For I have learned too much to wish to lose it. …I am a far more valuable person today than I was 50 years ago, 40 years ago or 30, 20 or even 10."

When we begin to diminish in our own eyes, the aging process hastens because it has to keep up with our fading view of ourselves.

Do we stop learning and intellectually decay in old age? Not necessarily. The neurons and dendrites in Einstein's brain kept on multiplying till the last day of his death. But, remember our rate of learning must keep pace with our degree of interest in the world around us.

I would like to end this article with Buck's thoughts about the rate of learning during old age: "I have learned so much since I was 70. I believe I can honestly say that I've learned more in the last 10 years than I've learned in any previous decade. And this I suppose is because I have perfected my techniques so that I no longer waste time in learning what I have to do, which is what I also want to do."

Wisdom that is often associated with age may be about eliminating the wasteful emotions and activities that don't really matter. Then, we can redesign, reengineer or perhaps even reinvent ourselves.

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Copyright 2002, Mind Publications 


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