Aging is inevitable, growing old is avoidable. Expressed differently, one is never too young to be old or eve die, but one is never so aged as to become old. This is because aging is physical, while being old is mental and spiritual. In my experience one does not grow old if five force fields stay active in daily consciousness: love, health, play, work, and caring for the future.
Retirement is an insidious trap that confuses aging with growing old. It is fine to stop doing a kind of work, but not to stop working. Vegetating produces decay. It is fine, often regenerative, to shift the geographic site and nature of work, but never to act as if one has reached the end of ‘working years.’
Play has many dimensions: anything that is fun, humor, games, sports, and to resist growing old embodies a subtle sense of irony about our limited understanding of ‘the real.’ It often reaches its climax in very private spaces: In my case, writing poems and playing chess with a computer.
Caring for the future may seem an odd component of staying young. Caring for the future is without boundaries: of humanity, of nature, of the cosmos, and of course, of loved ones, possibly including animal companions. It also means in my case a continuation of the always unfinished citizen pilgrimage, an impatience to reach that unattainable ‘heavenly city’ while here on earth. Such a pilgrimage is both vocation and vision.
In my case work is connected with caring for the future, and is unlikely to cease prior to my death, or possibly as an effect of severe physical decline. For me work is not always distinguishable from play, and centers upon purposeful engagement with living in a manner that can be shared or that contributes to the joy and betterment of those who are close in mind and spirit.
Love and health hardly require comment, and are rarely clarified by words. Both are, of course, foundational for all of us dedicated to staying young, but neither can be purchased in the marketplace, although both require continuous nurturing care. We should all do our best to resist premature old age by remembering that we have freedom and responsibility to overcome most of the annoying intrusions of aging.
I have only discovered this vital distinction between aging and growing old while reflecting these past few days on what it means for me to become 80!