|Listen to the audio file of Chapter Four|
If I talk about my creaky joints, hurting back, poor hearing, diminishing eye sight, slower mental recall, inability to hold water when I’m laughing too hard, and yet more I don’t dare tell you – are these not making me “old”? Or worse: Do I need to deny that I am deteriorating and pretend I’m as good as the younger folks?
Hmm, hmm. Not so fast! Sure, anything mechanical will work toward breakdown. Though, miraculously, the human body is pretty good at renewing itself, in many respects even improving itself. Not that you’ll be able to run as fast as when you took part in the local 5k, but the goal is to keep walking and keep the circulation of your blood going to serve the prime organs which, after all, is what makes the difference between being fully alive or fading away.
Your mind, actually, might be working a lot better at a ripe old age, even though it may be a little slower in processing. Due to its practically unlimited storage facility it has knowledge reserves which only you, the chronologically older person, are able to draw on. Plus it has a lot more experience in processing than any kid could possibly have.
The key difference, in my opinion, is whether you see yourself as a normal, adult person pursuing whatever you were best designed for, or as a somewhat worn-out mechanism in a steady course of decline. If you think the latter, then that’s what you really are, no question about it, for your entire YOU needs your personal approval for thinking and feeling that way. But that approval need not be given, at least not that easily. And, for strong minds and bodies, it can be denied totally.
Looking back at nature, be it rabbits, whales, or eagles: they are born, they grow, they live and live, and then they die. They don’t live a normal life until say their middle age, and then have a slow deterioration from maximal to minimal living until they die. NO. Animals are out in the field hunting their prey, doing all the things they normally do, until the day they die. Which doesn’t mean that their bodies (or minds) didn’t deteriorate. Very likely they did, up to a point, but mostly their bodies and minds rejuvenated themselves sufficiently every day until the day the process stopped and the creature dropped dead or died somehow.
The way we humans, in our present culture, see that same process is that the major part of our adult life is considered to be spent with work. Then, depending on the society, at age 55 up to 65, we are meant to switch from work to retirement. This time period is supposed to be mainly for doing nothing, abstaining from active participation in the world, and letting the world serve you until you do die after prolonged deterioration in all departments.
Well, if that is how we think, then that’s for sure how it goes. Of course there are many many reasons why society at this point in time is thinking this way, based on spiritual, religious, political, and other ideas. Just not on common sense, in my biased opinion.
I can see how this came about. The industrial revolution in the 19th century produced hard-working employees whose bodies and minds were pushed to the limits of their capabilities. Then, at the point when they were about to collapse, they were given “retirement” to make restitution for the primarily physical exploitation that they went through for so long; to give them a “do nothing” enjoyable life until the end. In my opinion, this is superficial claptrap. It deals with a humanly distorted “filling your time” endeavor, in this case an exploitive way of “work,” and then it removes all guilt for such a poor choice of filling your time, providing an equally unnatural and distorted period of “golden years” called “retirement.”
Of course we are not going to change the past. And, no doubt, the thinking of the best minds of the time (to some degree still our time) came up with that process. “Work” and “Retirement” have been considered a reasonable, maybe in their minds even God-prescribed, formula for the use of a man’s or woman’s life.
With the benefit of hindsight I must say that, in my humble opinion, common sense should have worked totally different. Yes, I believe that “filling our time” is part of the human design, not necessarily as a prescribed curriculum item, such as for simply eating, drinking, or reproducing, but one which by necessity is there for the purposes of far more. This includes providing for the basic human needs and then much much more, including reaching for the stars.
Depending on how we want to look at it, from a spiritual, religious, political, or strictly individualistic point of view, I think that how we are filling our time defines us as humans and what kind of human we are, just because we are able to be reaching for the stars.