Learning what is important as we age ?

Learning what is important as we age ?


There are some great liberations that surround old age. Abraham Maslow once suggested that wisdom was the accumulation of knowledge and experience and then living long enough to reflect on it, make sense of it, and apply it to oneself and others. Well not all older people are wise. However I have come to see and value that older age is a necessary condition for the achievement of wisdom. We have a great deal more work to be done in order to provide opportunities for older people to harvest their wisdom and for us all to learn from its richness.

I have just returned from a long afternoon in Goodwin House nearby – a huge old age care facility (www.goodwinhouse.org) with over 400 seniors living in a range of care and housing. I am overwhelmed by the scale of the work. I meet the Managing Director and other senior staff but my guide is the Director of Chaplaincy Bruce Stewart – a quiet and reflective person. He takes me on a tour of miles of corridors on ten floors. They have a special dementia unit (Hope Garden) and full nursing facilities. While I wonder if I would want to live here there was no doubt of the quality of engagement, care and love in the place. What prospects has retirement for us? How do we view it? How do we prepare for it?

From this perspective we never completely retire, but rather, we redirect our time, energy and experience to actions, causes and issues. That partly accounts for why some older people become more open to the spiritual dimension  of life as they age. This area of living has the creative potential to get us out of ourselves and give us an energy and focus. There is something unique about how our life story has shaped our understanding. We need to express this and channel it creatively for the wider good of both community and society. I remember visiting an old people’s center in Australia where a small group gathered each week to write letters about prisoners of conscience under the direction of Amnesty International. It was a simple way in which these people could expand their knowledge and horizons and work for change.

We all make mistakes in life – some more serious than others. As we grow older perhaps one of the liberations open to us is to learn from our mistakes. Here are some of the connections that older people have helped me to make;

  • Learn the lessons of pain
  • See beyond the narrow world of self
  • Let go of some of our self-serving egoism
  • Transcend pointless power struggles
  • No longer fear failure
  • No longer worry about self-aggrandizement
  • View career, status and success from a different perspective
  • Be open to the possibilities of change
  • Be ready to see the needs of others

What do your older friends teach you? There are some negative dimensions – but I shall leave those for another day!!

In older age we shall certainly be given the opportunity to find some relish in life and its possibilities for meaning. From this perspective maturity can represent the high point in human development. Old age can be a vacation – an exciting discovery. In this phase our second adulthood might be liberating rather than delimiting.

Here are some of my aspirations of age. That age might allow us to

  • To overcome the fear of irrelevance
  • To let go of our fear of failure
  • To let go of the tyranny of the dream and false expectation
  • To put an end to illusion, false hopes and desires than we can never fulfill
  • To grow in our Christian faith
  • To know that we are not in this alone

This is why we must attend to age. That is why the work of Temple Balsall is so very important in all parts of our site and community (see www.leveson.org.uk )  I would go further and remind us that we have an obligation to respect and honour the concepts of age and ageing in regard to both ourselves and others.

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