NAPLES, Fla. – I recently saw the movie “Quartet.” This directorial debut by Dustin Hoffman caught me off guard. I expected a pleasant afternoon of English landscapes and edifying dialogue wrapped in a story about a retirement home for gifted musicians. I got that and more – an acceptance of my own future. Let me explain.
At a graying 65 in Florida, I’m very aware of the phase of life I’ve entered. But I’m still fragmented. Wasn’t it just a few years ago that a young Steve saw a young Dustin Hoffman star in his first major role? How could the young Dustin now be 75 and directing a movie about old people? How could I be 65 and watching his movie? Impossible!
The central character in “Quartet,” Jean Horton, an aging opera diva played by 78-year-old Maggie Smith, resents her move to Beecham House. Her exciting, famous salad days are over. But she refuses to participate in “their” old, wrinkled fun and games. The movie chronicles Jean’s gradual acceptance and even love for and participation with her new “old” family.
Why was I so deeply affected by this film? This is why. I’m one of the people at Beecham House – but still looking through the young eyes of a young Hoffman. Stuck in time. Like Jean Horton, maybe it’s my time to make the transition. I wrote out my thoughts on how to accept my age reality and how to live forward and make the most of my “retirement years” on emotional and spiritual levels. It’s a matter of attitude adjustments. Maybe you’re stuck betwixt and between, too. So, I’m directing these “Five Ways” to both of us.
1. “Cross over.” We need to realize when we’ve come into the sunset phase of our life and embrace that with positive anticipation – knowing that the rest of our life can be the best of our life. Everything in our culture shouts “youth is good, old age is bad.” So, we try to hold on to youth (in more ways than can be catalogued here) long after it’s left us. We do this not necessarily because we prefer youth, but because we fear and resent aging. And what is it that bothers us? Sure, the inconvenience of physical ailments and restricted lifestyles are real to be sure. However, I believe the core problem with the old age “brand” is the morbidity of deterioration and death associated with it. So, we buy into the “young is good, old is bad” lie. I contend “young is good, old is better.”
2. Live in eternity’s sunrise. The English poet William Blake (1757-1827) wrote, “He who binds to himself a joy does the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies lives in eternity’s sunrise.” If Blake was commenting in this article, he might advise us to look forward to eternal life and not grasp too firmly the joys we’ve known here. Hard to do if your memories are fond, tender, precious ones of loved ones past and present. Memories should not, however, be the primary fuel that propels us forward. Their proper place is the beautiful scenery on our journey, not the destination itself. This attitude, of course, can only apply if we believe that eternal life with Christ is better than this earthly one. As aging Christians you and I have the sure assurance that the best of the love and joy we’ve known here is a mere foretaste of what we’ll experience in eternity. If we have this mindset, the nearer we get to death, the closer we’ll be to Joy Itself. I look on this as the “on ramp to eternity” phenomenon. Young is good, old is better.
3. Love the one you’re with. If you’ve been married a long time, you’ll probably be together until one of you dies. You know things about each other that no one else does and care more about each other than anyone else does. But it’s a double-edged sword. Familiarity can breed contempt. It’s easy to take each other for granted and allow behavior we wouldn’t tolerate from or impose on others. We must guard against rude, presumptuous behavior toward our life partner. We take our spouse for granted at our own peril. Give this person you married with such youthful enthusiasm the very best attention and tender care, all the time and without exception or excuse. If you can’t be consistent, quickly acknowledge your error and ask him or her for forgiveness. Even when your youth and middle years are behind you, it’s never too late to change. Make this covenant together. You’ll both be pleasantly surprised by the transforming power of this simple principle.
4. Love others closest to you. Maybe you’ve noticed that often the older you get, the smaller is the circle of those with whom you’d prefer to spend a lot of time. There’s your spouse and family, but there are other people in your life. Quickly make a list of them. Your family members come easily, but they aren’t necessarily the ones with whom you are now spending most of your time. Pay attention to whom you’re putting on that list and begin (if you don’t already) loving those people more. Put aside silly irritations, forgive past and present offenses, think on and encourage in yourself and them finer qualities. Pray for them and their needs. Bring up your faith to them. Most will appreciate your concerns and interest. Put aside sarcasm and competitively-charged behaviors when you’re with them. Ask God to give you the capacity to love them as He does and to see them as He does. You’ll be amazed at the change in their lives – and yours.
5. Be prepared. You are going to die. Your spouse is going to die. Your friends are going to die. You know this, they know it, and it will happen sooner than expected – maybe even for you. If you’ve successfully adopted the attitudes prescribed above, you’ll look upon death as a joyful conclusion to a life of relationships cultivated for and with the Lord. We should have been living our entire lives like this – as if each day was our last day on earth. Not many of us have done that, but it’s not too late to start. Each day is a blank sheet of paper. Make this the very best day you’ve ever lived. Be prepared. This isn’t all there is.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Steve Silver is a semi-retired management consultant, founder of Men’s Golf Fellowship and author of New Man Journey. He and his wife Sandy have three grown children and six grandchildren. They live in Naples, Fla., and Brookfield, Ct.)