Led merry, merry lives,
With many, many lady friends
And many, many wives;
But when old age crept over them-
With many, many qualms,
King Solomon wrote the Proverbs
And King David wrote the Psalms."
(James Ball Naylor, Ancient Authors)
Another birthday is upon me and since this one puts me on the other side of 65 it's starting to get difficult for me to think of myself in terms of "middle aged" but I don't think of myself in terms of being "old" either - maybe "mature middle age" would be a good way to sum it up. Still, age and aging have been on my mind lately so when I spotted a very small volume entitled "Plea for an Age Movement" among a stack of free books, I snatched it up.
What I had discovered was a treatise written in 1941 by Ralph Barton Perry, Professor of Philosphy at Harvard University. He opened his essay, which runs to a total of only 23 pages, with the poem which I have reproduced above and goes on to say, "We have heard a good deal recently about the "youth movement" and I suggest that the time has come to start an "age movement". It seems to me that not much has changed in the 70+ years since those words were written.
"There was a time when old men held a good position in the world...The theory was that although we had slowed down physically...we had more than made up for it. We were supposed to have laid by stores of wisdom, so that we could offer good counsel...We were supposed to dwell in the realm of ideas and to survey all of history, so that we could speak profoundly...
"Recently we have fallen to an all-time low. We are retired at an early age from business and the professions. We are hustled by our juniors in politics. And as to the armed services, it is universally held that what they need is young officers." This lament, written in the days preceding America's entry into World War II, describes the problem as envisioned by Prof. Perry and he goes on to expound, "The young, having ceased to respect their elders, have banded together and become a social class or political party, under their own leaders - a higher proletariat, unwaged and unlabored as well as unskilled. Their opinions and sentiments are treated as touchstones of policy. Those who are old enough to remember several wars are supposed on that account to be disqualified from judgment about this one. Those whose judgment is respected, those who are supposed to know what war is, are those who have never experienced war and who have even forgotten their history." Sound familiar?
The solution to the problem seems self-evident: "...(W)e have got to change our ideas of the value of age". Perry suggests that to begin to regain the ascendancy of aging we need to start an "age movement", and he suggests some steps we can take to reclaim the value of our collective experience and wisdom.
The first step, Perry suggests, is to engage youth on terms that utilize our strengths and do not expose our weakness, and to "never concede that the arts in which the young excel are in themselves more excellent than those which become our greater years." We should act our age, not try to reclaim our youth, and take pride in the things we do well.
Perry's second prescription is to make virtues of our necessities. "Age should not have its face lifted, but rather teach the world to admire wrinkles, and the etchings of experience and the firm lines of character." What we need is new perspective to replace the "youth culture" that exclusively celebrates the virtues of being young and beautiful with one that values the attributes of every age because let's face it, none us stays young forever but all of us have have a contribution to make. The Gray Panthers (remember them? - they're still out there ) incorporate the concept in their core values, two of which are "Honoring Maturity" and "Unifying the Generations".
Most important, attitude matters: "It behooves us, then, as elders to take the view that the course of years is a passage from less to greater vitality, from inertness to activity...Whether a man shall live toward the past of torward the future, is for him to decide...Time extends in both directions, and neither is ever closed. Let us, therefore, consider every anniversary as the opening of a new chapter, rather than as a closing of an old, and our many years gone by as an accumulated capital to invest in the years to come." So I have 66 years of accumulated experience, knowledge and (I hope) wisdom, and I hope I can use it wisely to make my next chapter useful, productive, and even more fun than the earlier ones.
It seems to me that the state of affairs concerning youth vis a vis their elders has not changed much since Prof. Perry opined so eloquently on the topic, yet I feel hopeful that I and my generation are ready to claim our rightful place in society as respected elders, if only because we have always had a sense of entitlement which makes us feel that we can have or be anything we want. "We're not getting older, we're getting better" to paraphrase some commercial campaign from years ago - and I believe it!
So if an "age movement" is called for, I'm in! Sixty-six may not be the new 40 but it's not necessarily a sentence to irrelevant old-age, either. In fact, I can't remember a time when I've felt better about life and what I have to contribute - so bring it on, baby, this old fart is ready!
Hey, you know who else turns 66 pretty soon? Jimmy Buffett! Let's see what he has to say on the topic:
Like I said, it's all about attitude.