Family & Education

The Joys and Amusements of Old Age

BY Jeff Minick TIMEMay 31, 2022 PRINT

Amusement is rarely a word associated with aging.

After all, the great majority of those who have passed their three-score-and-ten years face physical ailments, declining mental powers, and the certainty that they are sailing ever closer to the end of life.

Though a relative newbie to this milestone, I find myself fitting right in with this hoary crew. Every couple of months or so, some new and often mysterious injury afflicts me. This week, for instance, an inexplicable pain in my ankle has me shuffling around the house in the mornings. The pain disappears by noon, only to clamp down hard when I wake the next morning. My mental faculties remain intact, though I may require several minutes for the name of the lead actor in “Gladiator” to float from my brain to my tongue. And I’m aware, naturally, that I am a great many steps closer to the grave than I was 20 years ago.

In “A Geriatrician Reviews Cicero’s ‘On Old Age,’” Dr. Jeffrey Levine summarizes four reasons cited by the Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero on why “old age appears to be unhappy:” decreased active pursuits, a weakened body, the deprivation of physical pleasures, and impending death.

But as Cicero reveals in “De Senectute,” and as Levine shows us, the speaker Cato in this Ciceronian dialogue concludes of this final stage of life that “My old age sits light upon me … and not only is not burdensome, but makes me happy.”

Cato had his reasons for the consolations and joys we might find in old age.

Here are some of mine.

An Appreciation of Beauty

Years ago, when I used to visit my father in Florida, we’d often drink coffee or a glass of wine in his backyard, where Dad would comment throughout our conversation on the birds that came to the feeder he’d set up, the squirrels scampering under the pines, and the flowers his wife had planted in the rock garden he’d built. To be honest, those interests seemed a bit dull to me.

But now I understand.

As the body slows and as some of the obligations of life fall away—childrearing, the 9-to-5 job—we who are old have more time to absorb and enjoy the everyday panorama taking place around us. Like my dad, for example, I now spend some time daily, even on most winter days, on the porch, watching the rabbits and the deer, and the hawks, buzzards, and other birds. The clouds and blue skies roll across the hills, the rain falls, the wind offers gentle breezes or gusts that can blow the outdoor furniture into the yard, and meanwhile, I soak up nature’s pageantry.

People often elicit this same interest. Many women, for instance, who are younger than me by 40 or 50 years, strike me as beautiful. That barista may need to lose some weight, but her eyes shine like the sun; my librarian may look forbidding in her glasses and tight bun, but her smile lights up the room; the stranger on the sidewalk may be wearing a sweatshirt and running shorts, but she glides past me as graceful as a ballerina. I enjoy them as I do flowers in a public park.

Children

My grandchildren bring pleasure whenever they visit or in the memories I’ve stocked-piled of them over the years. Whether in real-time or in my imagination, watching them climb trees, wrestle in the living room, ride their hoverboards around the house, or sit absorbed in a book brings true delight.

Other children do the same. My church, for instance, is crammed full of families with lots of kids. Though some older parishioners frown when a baby wails or that 8-year-old makes her fourth trek to the restroom, I get a kick out of watching all these wiggling bodies, the infants and toddlers giving their parents a workout as they squirm in their arms, the brothers who whisper together until their father shushes them. This carnival of young people and little ones who are the promise and hope for the future brings a smile every Sunday.

Epoch Times Photo
(Biba Kajevic)

Most Troubles Are Trifles

Here, too, is one of the great gifts bestowed on me by the passage of years.

As is the case with many people, in my younger days, life often seemed like a ticking bomb that from time to time exploded when least expected, driving me into anger or depression. I’d be running late for an appointment, the car wouldn’t start, and I’d stomp into the house to phone and postpone the meeting. The property tax bill would arrive in the mail, leaving me down in the dumps for days. Frigid winter temperatures would burst a pipe in the basement, a frequent occurrence in our old house, and I’d spend the next couple of hours muttering away while I patched the leak.

Growing older has brought a perspective I lacked. These days, the expression “come what may” has become my watchword. There are things of vital significance in my life—the health and safety of my children and grandchildren, the well-being of friends, even the course of our country in these unhappy times—but troubles that once seemed mountains have become less than molehills. They’re just problems to be solved and are no longer sources of rage or sorrow.

Thanksgiving Comes Every Day

Until I entered my 60s, I rarely gave much thought to gratitude, or if I did, those moments have vanished from my memory.

But gratitude is surely one of the graces bestowed by growing old.

Every dawn shortly after I wake, I offer a simple prayer, “Thank you, God, for another day.” As I wend my way through that day, I add other appreciations, things I’m grateful for, everything from my grandkids to a good cup of coffee. I consider myself fortunate for discovering, even so late in life, this deeper consciousness of the good in this world, this ability to cherish people, places, and things I once took for granted or ignored.

Recently, I ate supper with a young couple and their children whom I’ve befriended. After the meal, as is their custom, we gathered for family prayer in the den. Their two little girls offered up their prayer intentions for their parents, some relatives, their baby brother, and even me. When it was the turn of the mother, she thanked God for all the good in her life.

She’s not quite 30, but she gets it.

And now I get it, too.

Which is one more thing to be grateful for.

Getting older makes time more precious and also often frees us to pursue our delights, and I know plenty of people who do just that. Several older friends of mine play golf or tennis, a millionaire and his wife have spent their retirement traveling the country, and another acquaintance enjoys nothing so much as gardening and reading historical fiction.

Illness, the death of friends and family, hard times: Old age can be one tough old bird, and there are horrible times when pain and sadness can take us down. Rightly so. The trick is to not let them keep us down.

Jeff Minick
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust on Their Wings,” and two works of non-fiction, “Learning as I Go” and “Movies Make the Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.
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