Leonardo da Vinci. Self-Portrait. 1512. Wikimedia Commons
“A human being would certainly not grow to be seventy or eighty years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species. The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life’s morning.”
- Appreciating The Treasures Of Growing Old.
“In Japan, some men and women of a certain age who excel in the traditional arts and crafts are designated “living national treasures”, an honour which acknowledges their unique contribution to society.”
Regarding older people as potential ‘treasures’ challenges the ageist stereotypes of decline and disposability.
Even if older people are ill or frail, they still have value as people in their own right, with their own identity, opinions and needs.
Yet it is sadly too easy to overlook the wishes of an older person, their hopes and fears.
“Old age is not synonymous with being ‘glad to die.’ “
“I thought how little we know about the feelings of old people. Children we understand, their fears and hopes and make-believe.”
Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
“Why should society feel responsible only for the education of children, and not for the education of all adults of every age?”
2. Recognising The Difference Between Ageing And Growing Old.
“The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age…”
Growing older can be about freedom and increasing wisdom. There is often less responsibility, more time for self and less need to compete.
“Old age, believe me, is a good and pleasant thing. It is true you are gently shouldered off the stage, but then you are given such a comfortable front stall as spectator.”
“I love getting older. My understanding deepens. I can see what connects, I can weave stories of experience and apply them. I can integrate the lessons. Things simply become more and more fascinating. Beauty reveals itself in thousands of forms.”
Being older can give us space to reflect, to contemplate ourselves and the world, to gain a realistic perspective of our strengths and weaknesses. It can be a time to relish and appreciate the wonders of nature, and the world around us.
“Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”
Long years of experience can lead to good sense, and self-confidence.
However, there are some people who do not achieve this, instead becoming bitter and resentful in their later years.They do not give to others, clinging to the past.
This, sadly, adds to feelings of loneliness and being forgotten.
They lack the grace to acknowledge their own shortcomings, thinking that age should command respect, however they behave to others.
Old age is not always synonymous with wisdom. There are some who age and repeat old behaviour patterns, old ways of thinking, and do not grow flexibly.
“There is no good reason why we should not develop and change until the last day we live.”
3. Remembering The Importance Of Lifelong Learning.
“The learning process continues until the day you die.”
Keeping one’s mind active depends on attitude. As long as we are learning, then we are more likely to maintain a youthful and adaptable outlook on life.
This applies to any age group; even younger people will become fixed, ‘old’ in their outlook, if they stop learning.
“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”
4. Continuing to Learn About The Self.
“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”
Gabriel García Márquez
Gaining awareness of ourselves and our needs is a life-long quest.
As we grow older, we need to maintain self-awareness, in order to understand the effects of ageing upon us and to find new ways to manage – and appreciate- some of the inevitable changes.
What we learn in old age about ourselves does not have to be grim; we can notice how enriched we have become through the passage of time.
Monet. Afternoon At Argenteuil. Wikiart.
“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.”
Apple Tree. Klimt. Wikimedia Commons.
“One loses, as one grows older, something of the lightness of one’s dreams; one begins to take life up in both hands, and to care more for the fruit than the flower, and that is no great loss perhaps.”
5. Being Aware Of The Importance Of Keeping The Spirits Up.
“It is lovely to meet an old person whose face is deeply lined, a face that has been deeply inhabited, to look in the eyes and find light there.”
We can keep our spirits up through having friends, learning, looking after others if possible, and caring for ourselves, both physically and psychologically.
“There is nothing more notable in Socrates than that he found time, when he was an old man, to learn music and dancing, and thought it time well spent.”
Michel de Montaigne
“I think ageing is challenging, surprising, fun, and full of friendship, so that is the approach I’ll take, objecting to the stigmatization of ageing in so many modern societies.”
6. Learning To Manage Emotions Like Anger, Frustration And Denial.
Growing old requires courage and fortitude:
“Old age ain’t no place for sissies.”
Ageing is coming to terms with the inevitability of loss and deterioration. It is also about cherishing the precious aspects we have inside, like wisdom and emotional strength.
Of course old age has its drawbacks, hurdles and challenges.
“We have to get used to being the person we are, the person we have always been, but encumbered now with various indignities and disabilities, shoved as it were into some new incarnation. We feel much the same, but clearly are not. We have entered an unexpected dimension; dealing with this is the new challenge.”
(Do read this Guardian article,5/10/13 ‘So this is old age,’ referenced above, by Penelope Lively. It’s wonderfully written.)
Ageing may bring stiff joints, illness, pain. Some days this may be really hard to bear. Additionally, there is the emotional loss, for youth has gone and the body is less energetic.
This is not true for everyone, but most people experience some age-related symptoms.
Writers and poets have given vent to their anger, defiance and resentment about ageing:
“Shame on the body for breaking down while the spirit perseveres.”
W.B. Yeats. 1933.(b.1865. d. 1939)Wikimedia Commons.
“I spit into the face of Time
That has transfigured me.”
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Whilst it is important to express and process such feelings, ultimately, anger needs to give way to a calmer state of mind, if one is to have a healthy ageing process.
7. Developing Acceptance And Creative Thinking.
“A surprisingly large number or people try to live the second half of life as if it were the first half. This perverts the normal grace of aging. Hating wrinkles, bemoaning physical deterioration, sexual changes, aches and pains, and illnesses, they hide or deny aging, clown their way through life, playing perennial youths, seeking the thrills and action of being young. They are robbing themselves of the treasures of growing old which compensate for its frailties and infirmities.”
Harry A. Wilmer
Sophia Loren, at 86, does not let signs of ageing prevent her from being an inspirational actor.
Ageing may change our faces, but it does not diminish personality, which can shine out from the oldest of countenances.
“You are not too old
and it is not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out
its own secret.”
In her latest film, The Life Ahead, on Netflix, Loren plays a Holocaust survivor, who forges a bond with a young immigrant from Senegal who has lost his mother.
The film flags up many issues; apart from ageing, we think about the importance of accepting difference and diversity.
It also highlights the centrality of love, at whatever age, whether with a partner, family member or friend.
“Love has no age, no limit; and no death.”
Here is the video, about the film, in which Loren is interviewed with her son, the director.
(Just skip the irritating ads. along the way.)
“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”
“We turn not older with years, but newer every day.”
A Look At Art And Ageing.
Art is meaningful to us when it reflects and comments on our society and the human condition, and ageing is very much a part of that.
“You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.”
George Bernard Shaw.”
Art lets us gain a deeper visual and emotional awareness of how ageing affects us all.
It can powerfully challenge denial. There is no denying that ageing affects our visual image, yet it also lends us wisdom and depth and it can enhance our personality. Art that can express all this is truly great.
Detail from Rembrandt, Self Portrait. 1660. Wikimedia Commons.
Rembrandt’s self-portrait shows an ageing face, painted in a way that does not exaggerate or stereotype.
It is realistic and accepting, revealing an intimate depth of self-knowledge and identity.
Lucien Freud’s self-portraits may be seen as similar, yet they are more penetrating, displaying every detail of his ageing face and body.
They nevertheless represent an acceptance of the effects of time; Freud is not afraid to show himself. What he has created is deeply beautiful, full of reality, character and awareness of self.
Lucian Freud – Self Portrait, Reflection  Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
‘To the question, “Why am I old?” the usual answer is, “Because I am becoming dead.” But the facts show that I reveal more character as I age, not more death.’
Lucien Freud. Painter Working.Reflection. 1993.Wikiart.
In this painting of Freud naked in his studio, he seems defiant. It is as if he is saying “This is me, ageing, like it or lump it!”
Self-portraits of ageing may also be expressed through poetry.
I will leave you with this Mary Oliver poem, which reveals her to be optimistic, an inspiration to us all, and ‘still full of beans,”despite her ‘old legs.’
I wish I was twenty and in love with life
and still full of beans.
Onward, old legs!
There are the long, pale dunes; on the other side
the roses are blooming and finding their labor
no adversity to the spirit.
Upward, old legs! There are the roses, and there is the sea
shining like a song, like a body
I want to touch
though I’m not twenty
and won’t be again but ah! seventy. And still
in love with life. And still
full of beans.
Do follow my blog, whatever your age, to receive regular weekly updates straight to my inbox. Thank you.