Cicero called old age – ” the autumn of life” and certainly each stage of life has its own beauty and its own tasks. There is a dignified maturity to autumn that is restful and calls upon us to reflect…a certain sharpness to the air and shadows that focuses the mind on the essentials.
Stepping back to consider our life as a whole can help us gain perspective on each stage. At each stage of life we are maturing and growing and that doesn’t stop when we are 18 or 81. We can and should always be open to our own personal growth. This process of personal growth is also important to society. When a person reaches a certain age there is a tendency to believe they have nothing to contribute, as their ability to produce economic value to society declines. But I would argue that it is precisely at this time that the individual has within his or her grasp a “wisdom of the heart” that can and should be beneficial to society as a whole. Building social capital is extremely important for the health of our society and individuals who have significant experience have much to share.
The experiences gained through living bring maturity and knowledge. As we age, we have a greater wisdom for human affairs than we did when we were young. Those who we now consider senior should be viewed as a treasure for all of us…a precious fount for advice and guidance. And beyond that, the signs of human frailty which are clearly connected with aging reminds us of our mutual dependence and connection with each other. It recalls to mind a quote by George Washington Carver:
How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young,
compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving,
and tolerant of the weak and strong
because someday in your life you will have been all of these.
Throughout the seasons of our life we will be all these things that George Washington Carver describes… and each season will bring forth different talents and gifts. The talent of a listening heart is one that grows with age and wisdom. In our era of intense noise, it is a gift we should value. Further, the signs of human frailty should also call upon our compassion and care, as that dependence is a connection to our common humanity and can bring out the best of who we are.