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I have a couple of quirks – or so I am told.  I never read ahead of time about places I am going to visit.  I don’t do travel guides or look for the best places to eat or even the history of the country.  But when I return home I will buy several books about a country or a city to learn more about what I saw and even what I did not.  Then there is this.  I have never fished in my life but I have read eight books on fly fishing.  Even though I think it is the most elegant sport of all and I love hearing the stories from those who do, I know I will settle for doing it vicariously.

However, there is one place I am going and something I’ll be doing that has intrigued me enough to start studying in advance.  I want to know more of the contours of that country and the way to best experience it and get the most out of my time there.  I want to hear from others who live there now or have been there.  What is it? It is the inevitable experience of growing old.  Some fear it.  Some avoid it.  Some hope to put it off as long as possible but after a recent birthday I am becoming intrigued by the adventure of it.

That is why I bought  How To Grow Old by Marcus Tullius Cicero.  I learned about it through an article in  Comment by Cornelius Plantinga and knew immediately it was worth reading the whole book.  It is.  Here is how he starts:  “Everyone hopes to reach old age but when it comes, most of us complain about it.  People can be foolish and inconsistent.”  From that point on he deals with the several fears people have about growing old and then proposes that this season of life is not only natural but is meant to be vital and productive in unique ways.

For those of us who have too often defined our value by our furious pace, reading Cicero is not only a relief but a challenge to think in completely new ways about age.  It’s far more than saying   “when I am old I shall wear purple” even though humor is important.  It’s far more useful than bemoaning the progressive changes.  There are two passages, in particular, that I have read and re-read.

First, this:  “People who say there are no useful activities for old age don’t know what they are talking about.  They are like those who say a pilot does nothing useful for sailing a ship because others climb the masts, run along the gangways, and work the pumps while he sits quietly in the stern holding the rudder.  He may not be doing what the younger crewmen are doing, but what he does is much more important and valuable.  It’s not by strength or speed or swiftness of body that great deeds are done, but by wisdom, character and sober judgment.  These qualities are not lacking in old age but in fact grow richer as time passes.”

Do you love that as much as I do?  It’s not that our work is easier but that our roles and contributions change.  We no longer have to be the  “climbers and runners” we have been for most of our lives.  Now is the time to understand the value made by wisdom, character and sober judgment.

Because I am in Los Angeles this week with Praxis and their Fellows who are young entrepreneurs building social enterprises both for-profit and nonprofit, there is something else Cicero said that has given me encouragement:  “What indeed could be more pleasant than an old age surrounded by the enthusiasm of youth? For surely we must agree that old people at least have the strength to teach the young and prepare them for the many duties of life.  What responsibility could be more honorable than this?”  Indeed.  The apostle Peter as well writes about what the elders owe those who are young and the gifts the young have for the older.  Both Peter and Cicero are right.

But, finally, Cicero says, “The crowning glory of old age is respect.”  That respect does not come cheap.  It must be earned.  “Thus it follows – as I once said with the approval of all who heard me – that an old age which must defend itself with words alone is unenviable.  Wrinkles and gray hair cannot suddenly demand respect.  Only when the earlier years of life have been well spent does old age at last gather the fruits of admiration.  When that has finally happened, the signs of respect may at first seem unimportant or even trivial – morning visits, requests for meetings, people making way for you and rising when you approach” confirm  a life well-lived and looking forward to what is next.

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    Calvin W. Edwards

    Thanks Fred. I appreciate your perspective. And I am convinced to buy Cicero’s book.

    I hit 60 and was not happy about it. I wanted to go down fighting. I thought those who said “old age isn’t too bad” were kidding themselves and wanting to kid me. I was going to be honest and admit it just wasn’t where I wanted to be. On that birthday, a few years back, I listened to Dylan Thomas’ recording of “Do not go gentle into that good night” admonishing me to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” That seemed appropriate.

    But you offer an argument for an alternate view. I can benefit from that. Finding joy in age is a better way. I have done so, but I like the idea of having a case made for the virtue of seniority.

    And, yes, I do love the notion that “great deeds are done . . . by wisdom, character and sober judgment . . . qualities [that] are not lacking in old age.” Thank you for making me realize that anew.

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    Walter Hansen

    Thanks, Fred!
    I immediately sent this to Darlene with an invitation:
    “Grow old along with me!
    The best is yet to be,
    The last of life, for which the first was made:
    Our times are in his hand
    Who saith, ‘A whole I planned,
    Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!'”
    lines from Rabbi Ben Ezra
    by Robert Browning

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    Pete Hutton

    Fred, truly this is an amazing and great message for all of us who are headed down the river of life…and we have only one Guide Book to get us there. Even so, it’s enough, and then knowing our Guide never leaves the pilot house, the Son is ever encouraging us by saying, “Sail on, sail on, sail on and on…” and a loving Father is reminding us He’ll be meeting us in person (or whatever form we take) when we get to the end of our journey. I always reflect on the words of a woman I met at a hotel restaurant in Beijing. She had been trained as a neurologist here in the States, and had returned to her native land of China to serve the people in her chosen medical profession. Because she wouldn’t deny Jesus, she served in prison for about 25 years. There she led no telling how many other female prisoners and perhaps guards to the Lord while incarcerated. Ultimately she was freed from prison but could no longer practice medicine. So, she devoted the rest of her life to preaching the Gospel in the mountains of China. I met her when she was 85, and my friend asked her when she planned to retire. She looked a him and me with a twinkle in her eye and said, “Brother G___, I don’t find the word, retire, in my Bible.” That has stayed with me and it has become my plan…wear out but not to rust out.

    Thanks so very much for sharing your heart and being so transparent. Your message I just add to the wealth of encouragement as I also get older.

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    Bob Shank

    Fred, thanks for – once again – being spot-on.

    The less thoughtful might hear your words as an attempt to self-validate the silver-hairs, but the incredible importance of anticipating and advocating for the contribution of those who have aged well to a society that seems to have lost touch with its moorings. The finest classrooms seem to be graduating a generation in deep need of the wisdom acquired through the real-time experiences of life, and the Author of Life who clarifies the discoveries that emerge from the journey. Old age does not ensure wisdom, but those who are wise are most likely to be old(er). You’re stimulating us all with your considerations! Keep your hands on the rudder!

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    Oh wow, Fred! What a beautiful reminder – cannot wait to get the book. your thoughts in that last paragraph were just the inspiration I needed. Love, love your perspective. Such hope and beauty. Thanks❤️

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    Peter Scholtens

    Fred, thanks for your thoughts!

    You may be interested in checking out Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal (http://atulgawande.com/book/being-mortal/).

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    Your message speaks significance and purpose into this season of life for me. As I read your thoughts, I reflected on the news last night about Jimmy Carter,92 and a brain cancer survivor, building homes with Habitat in the summer heat. His long-lived example of wise words and deeds models what it looks like to finish well..a good and faithful servant.

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