Rewards Of Aging

By Saul Levine, MD


Photography by Ron Henggeler San Francisco – California

Are the “Ravages of Age” inevitable? Are we destined to become infirm and useless, or, to quote Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?”

We are a youth-oriented culture; the media focuses on youthful fashions and lifestyles, and there is envy of youth for their energy and exuberance. Jethro Tull’s Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll reinforces the message of the incapacity of aging; while Paul McCartney’s poignant Yesterday is a beautiful elegy for our lost youth.

Retirement communities spring up like wildfire, seen by many as a form of “warehousing.” Life expectancies are extended, and the health of older generations is improved dramatically. There is wear and tear as we age, but people in their seventies, eighties and beyond are often remarkably energetic and active.

We need a new mindset, which I call “The Rewards of Aging”.  There are often exciting developments in the lives of older people, including remarkable transformations. As we age, we develop insights into ourselves and others, and often a new confidence and worldliness.  It is magical when an older person makes significant personal changes or embarks on a new challenge.

We see radical departures from long-standing patterns in roles and relationships: Older people can move from being social outcasts to confidantes, from rejection to appreciation. They learned from their successes, and from their failures.  They became wiser, more philosophical, more generous and generative, eager to share their wisdom with younger generations.

As we age, we continue to evolve psychologically and socially, with changes in our goals.  We still ask ourselves lifelong existential questions about our aspirations and relationships but as we age and wrestle with new issues, our answers to these questions change as well.

In the Far and Middle East, older individuals are inherently respected, often perceived as elder sages whom people go to for guidance and advice.  In our own culture, to be older is seen as a hindrance or even a shame.

Appreciation of elder wisdom may finally be permeating our consciousness.  It is a valuable national resource.  To be relegated to disrespect is an affront and humiliating, and it is a terrible loss to society.

In a New York Times column entitled The Geezers’ Crusade, David Brooks urged seniors to share their energy and wisdom, and called for them to lead a “generativity” revolution, with an ethic of selflessness and communal caring.  Elder volunteers offer their expertise and energies in the Peace Corps, the UN, NGOs, and other agencies throughout the world.

The presence of thousands of healthy, wise and motivated older people, and the crying needs all over the world for their contributions, offer us a seminal opportunity for the ennoblement of our species.  We need the wisdom of our older citizens who can be a major source and impetus for social change.  David Brooks concluded his essay with these sage (and ironic) words:  “The elderly:  They are our future.”

One Response to “Rewards Of Aging”

  1. Lois Gordon | 06.29.12 at 11:26 AM said…

    Happy someone wrote on this subject. Since I am one of those “elderly ones”, at 77 I volunteer, date, write and am in perfect health. Actually have many younger people who enjoy talking with me because of the experiences I have had.
    Thanks for writing this.