I shall say no more except that I already told you many years ago of the alternative journey you are now called to take – a journey which does indeed lie on the slopes of that mountain but holds no fame or glory for you; only loneliness and sadness. The choice is yours. Will you deceive yourself as Dante’s Ulysses did in a sin far worse than the deceit of the Trojan horse? (Old Age 12)
These words of the poet Teiresias, the blind poet, imagined by Helen Luke, addressed to Odysseus resting from his toils and trials of youth. They sum up the choice which all of us must make when we face the journey into old age. Are we truly to continue “grow old”—to continue to grow in psychic maturity or will we simply succumb to the aging process—sinking, perhaps not gently, into that perceived, not so sweet night, fighting that inevitable journey every step of the way.
As we baby boomers continue our journey into old age, the question of “growing old” or succumbing to the aging process becomes one which is looming larger in our lives. I originally explored the questions raised by Helen Luke in her work, Old Age, about ten years ago when I was approaching the traditional retirement age of 65 (although I had retired for the first time quite a while before that). Although, at the time, that age seemed to be appropriate for exploring the issue, I have realized that I was not truly able to appreciate the journey into old age that lies ahead of me. I am beginning to appreciate the wisdom of Helen Lukes words to a much greater extent than when I began that exploration. The question of whether I will “grow old” or succumb to the aging process is one that stares me in the face every morning when I regard the old man who stares back at me in the mirror. It is one that I struggle with as I decide what I will do each day.
Richard Rohr addressed this in one of his Daily Meditations this week:
It’s true that the second half of life is a certain kind of weight to carry, but no other way of being makes sense or gives us the deep satisfaction our soul now demands and even enjoys. This new and deeper passion is what people mean when they say, “I must do this particular thing or my life will not make sense” or “It is no longer a choice.” Our life and our delivery system are now one, whereas before, our life and our occupation seemed like two different things. Our concern is not so much to have what we love anymore, but to love what we have—right now. This is a monumental change from the first half of life, so much so that it is almost the litmus test of whether we are in the second half of life at all… Aging can be either a life of nostalgia or a wholehearted engagement with the future.
I believe that what we face in our journey into old age is call to be aware, aware that we are created in the image of God for a purpose that can only be revealed throughout our lives. The purpose is different at differ times in our life and can only be revealed if and when we are awake of the path that inner voice is calling us to follow.
May we be blessed to hear that voice on our journey.