Judeo-Christian scripture speaks of old age as a blessing – even as a reward for righteousness.
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).
Over and again, it recites the lives of long-ago heroes of the faiths, often recounting their long lives.
One example is King David: “He died at a good old age, having enjoyed long life, wealth and honor. His son Solomon succeeded him as king” (1 Chronicles 29:28).
Wisdom is attributed to that advanced age as well.
“Is not wisdom found among the aged?” asked Job. “Does not long life bring understanding?” (Job 12:12).
Yet wisdom is not automatically acquired in annual doses. A great test of long life is to accept its bittersweet nature, and to determine that it shall be more sweet than bitter.
It's no small challenge.
“All would live long,” Benjamin Franklin mused, “but none would be old.”
In old age, memories grow manifold, while dreams become fewer.
Death takes an increasing tally of loved ones and friends – those whose lives, to one degree or another, help define our own. Geography or even disputes may separate us from those yet living.
Senses may dull so that food, music, flowers and conversation cease to be so pleasurable as they once were. The decline of one's strength and reflexes can make other formerly cherished activities more taxing than invigorating. A multitude of choices becomes more overwhelming than liberating.
As more and more change takes place beyond our control, the tendency of some is to view each new difference – from the tweaking of the order of their beloved worship service to the ubiquity of cell phones – as an intentional threat against one's peace of mind.
Pearl S. Buck, author of “The Good Earth,” noted, “You can judge your age by the amount of pain you feel when you come in contact with a new idea.”
Yet we all know people who sail sanguinely through even advanced years. They set aside what is no longer meaningful or pleasurable and embrace all the more what still feeds their souls, perhaps even developing new interests and friendships and understandings along the way, as circumstances allow.
The elders who set an example worth imitating are the ones whose faith grows instead of shrinking, whose humor shines between the clouds of loss and limitation, whose memories are spice and not sustenance, whose wisdom is shared more when it's asked for than when it isn't.
Old age is a chance, if anything, to grow stronger in our faith, to improve ourselves, to enhance our value to others, to invest more intensely in those we love.
Perhaps the chief aim of age should be that urged by 19th Century British preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
“Carve your name on hearts,” he said, “and not on marble.”