A 67-year-old man dies of cancer and his entire world falls to its knees in mourning and cries, “what a terrible loss, why was he taken so young.”
A 67-year-old man wakes up on the day of his birth and his world greets him with mocking laughter and says, “Happy birthday old man, you still here?”
Western culture feels slightly confused about aging and growing old, personally I’m not interested in listening to what it has to say anymore. I believe this.
Aging is a beautiful gift.
The cemetery’s are full of people who would most likely agree with me. This essay would go viral in the after life. I think I would get a boatload of likes from the deceased.
For me it’s become a simple truth that gives my life perspective and purpose. I like it a lot better than “same shit, different day.” I didn’t get much out of that one. Honestly, I love it because the only alternative to not getting older is being dead. There just isn’t a lot of big belly laughs in being dead.
Let each thing you would do, say or intend be like that of a dying person. – Marcus Aurelius (Meditations – Book II, 167 A.C.E.)
You want to do something noble? You want to challenge yourself? Attempt to do what Marcus Aurelius put forth so beautifully in his insightful book Meditations.
Live your life like that of a dying person.
Today, I personally love waking up in the morning and feeling air hit my lungs. But this has become an acquired skill. I never even considered that daily gift until recently.
I love getting out of bed at 4am and facing the day. I used to hate getting up early. Can’t I just sleep in? I don’t want to deal with today.
I love completing 365 amazing trips around the sun every year. I love birthdays. Mine, yours, just about anyones. You are here. I am here. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to me. Happy Birthday to everyone.
I try to be grateful everyday for the privilege of being here. Gratitude is awfully hard work. I fail. I fail way more than I succeed. But I am trying or better yet, maybe training is a better word. I am training myself to build a bigger, stronger gratitude muscle. Isn’t having gratitude for life just an optimistic way of saying I know I’m going to die? It’s just paying due respect to your gift.
No man can escape his destiny, the next inquiry being how he may best live the time that he has to live. – Marcus Aurelius (Meditations – Book VII, 167 A.C.E.)
Do we consider on a daily basis the above words as deeply as we should?
“How he may best live the time that he has to live.”
My best guess is no. I’m not sure Marcus Aurelius is a big tweet subject on Twitter. That’s just a hunch, I’m not on Twitter so I don’t actually know. It has twit in it.
twit – noun: a silly annoying person.
Generally speaking, we like to think about anything and everything but the idea of how to best use our time to live. Our calendars don’t usually have this penciled in, “contemplate death from 2:15 to 2:45.” Nobody wants to talk about dying or death. Bring it up at your neighbor’s backyard BBQ and see how fast they scatter for the beer cooler and the pigs in a blanket.
At funerals we do. We are forced to. Death is a cold splash of water to the I’m going to live forever face. We wake up. Life is so short. Life is so precious. Carpe Diem! How long does that last? Be honest. Do we mourn and then move right into I have wrinkles, my butt is sagging, I can’t read small print, my everything hurts, this sucks, I’m old.
When our mortality or the mortality of someone we love is challenged or stamped with an expiration date, we love life. We love it so hard. We pray, we beg, and we bargain with the universe, God, anything or anyone for one more year, month, day, hour, second of life. Then what do we do when our prayers are answered? Back to business as usual? Or do we really start living? Are we truly grateful for the grace of time we are allotted on this earth? Yes, life is full of problems. Guess what it’s not perfect. That is not fake news. It is also equally full of beauty, love, joy, and endless opportunities to do, and be, whatever you want to be at anytime along the journey.
Aging is an awfully small price we have to pay for that luxury, don’t you think?
You will give yourself relief, if you do every act of your life as if it were the last. – Marcus Aurelius (Meditations – Book II, 167 A.C.E.)
There seems to be a long list of things people seem to despise about the aging process. Some are rooted in vanity and others are true obstacles. The human machine breaks down and it isn’t always pretty or easy. Ask someone who is celebrating a birthday they don’t want to celebrate and the list will most likely be larger than the amount of candles on the cake.
So why do we feel so bad about getting older? Why do we suffer with the enviable? Is it a knee jerk emotional reaction to our obsession with youth? Are we afraid of dying? So we lament, and complain and fight the inevitable realities of getting older. Getting older doesn’t equal dead. Dead equals dead. I suck at math and I know that.
Why do we hear the words, I wish I was young again. Do we? Do we really? Have you ever really burrowed down into that idea. Would you want to be younger than your children? What age would you pick to start over again? What age is the perfect age? Would you stay one age for all of eternity and watch all your friends, family, children, grandchildren, great grand children and multiple dogs grow old and die?
Did you not watch The Curious Case Of Benjamin Buttons?
Why waste precious time and energy on the impossible task of reversing time? We can’t reverse time but we can change how intensely we live every moment moving forward. What is wrong with forward? Embracing the journey.
You can think young despite what the aging process is doing to the body.
You can be childlike with your wonder.
You can still engage in teenage lust over things worth lusting.
You can learn, grow, explore, start over, and have your whole life in front of you despite your chronological age.
It’s been said, youth is wasted on the young. May I suggest that the elderly do a damn fine job of wasting it. Wasted energy, time, effort, and emotion on youth.
Marcus Aurelius simple, timeless words warn us you will suffer less the trials of aging if you live your life as if you are dying. I hate to be the bearer of bad news. You are dying. We all are. Jim Morrison said it like only a true rocker can, “No one here gets out alive.”
Death is necessary and cannot be avoided. I mean, where am I going to go to get away from it? – Epictetus (Discourses – Book I, 108)
Where are you going to go? The Stoics can deliver a gut punch.
If I’m honest with myself, I have wasted a lot of my life. I don’t have that much left to waste anymore. I’m 54 years into this race. There is a finish line, and unlike trail races and obstacle course racing I have no idea when or where it is. It could be 50 years from today or I may not wake up tomorrow. I don’t know. You don’t know.
I’m not writing this to hold you accountable.
I’m writing this to hold me accountable.
Living with joy and presence and purpose is hard work.
Being grateful, and humbled by impermanence, is not easy.
Where am I going to go to get away from death? I’m not.
I am trying to go as deeply into living and fully accepting this beautiful gift of aging as much as I possibly can.
Death, you can find me there.
*I tried to use a photo that made me look as old as possible. No hair on the roof, and a giant grey beard seem to do the trick. But I’m smiling and I’m grateful.
A version of this post was previously published on Over50BadAsses and is republished here with permission from the author.
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Photo credit: Over 50 Badasses