Time tends to terrorize us: the slow acceptances that no matter what you apply to your scalp; your hair will keep falling out, that the smile lines gathering around your eyes will continue to congregate; that yes, that youthful metabolism is on its way out.
What to do? Perhaps rather than wring our hands, we can learn to appreciate age as we age and how the nature of happiness tends to mature.
More than that, we can take models of aging gracefully—such as the neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, who just wrote a paean to turning 80.
"Eighty! I can hardly believe it," he writes in the New York Times. "I often feel that life is about to begin, only to realize it is almost over."
But this is not a column of melancholy; Sacks's is one of gratitude. While he is sad to be as "agonizingly shy" at 80 as he was at 20 and deeply aware of the marks of decay that the decades bring, his tone is hopeful. With luck he may "make it, more or less intact, for another few years and be granted the liberty to continue to love and work, the two most important things, Freud insisted, in life."
To have Sacks and Freud—two of the greatest minds to engage with mental life—mutually insist that love and work are the two most important things is motivating, to say the least, and helps to clarify our questions of balancing life and work—that if we can assemble a network of people worth collaborating on this life thing with and find work worth living through, we can be as contented as Sacks is when we're octogenarians.
Beyond that, old age has its advantages: Sacks mentions his father, who lived to be 94 and said his 80s were one of the most creative decades of his life. This makes sense: As we've reported before, creativity springs from a breadth of experiences—and the older you grow, more of life becomes available to you.
Sacks puts it better than we can:
One has had a long experience of life, not only one's own life, but others', too. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities, too. One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age. I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like, which I could not do when I was 40 or 60. I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.
The quest for us, then, is to seek and to find the work that creates the meaning.
Hat tip: New York Times
[Senior: Andre Blais via Shutterstock]