“They will still bear fruit in old age . . .” – Psalm 92:14
“Old age is not for sissies,” my mother would often say in her later years. It would seem that remark was made mostly in the context of her declining health, but I think there was a deeper meaning than simply enduring the suffering brought on by health problems. I also think it meant that in order to live out one’s remaining years effectively and productively requires courage. And among those I have observed who have “finished well” as the saying goes – including my mother – have indeed been people who exhibited great courage. That is, they were not faint hearted about expressing love, cherishing friendships past and present, sharing their wisdom, and giving generously of themselves.
In her marvelous book The Gift of Years Sister Joan Chittister says, “The gift of years comes to many more than realize that these later years are gift, not burden. Not everyone who lives them either understands them or welcomes them. . . This is a special period of life – maybe the most special of them all. . . . Life is not about age, about the length of years we manage to eke out of it. It is about aging, about living into the values offered in every stage of life.”
We live in an achievement culture, “A culture of people striving and trying to win success,” according to New York Times columnist David Brooks. He goes on to explain, “The way I express this contrast, this hunger for success is by two sets of virtues, which you could call the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. And the résumé virtues are the things you bring to the marketplace which you put on a résumé. And the eulogy virtues are the things you get expressed in your eulogy. . . So the eulogy virtues are to give courage, to give honor, what kind of relationships do you build, did you love.”
So as my own years increase I find that I too am less burdened by an endless pursuit of success – not that I’ve yet achieved everything I set out to do – but because I am free to live for what really matters, those things described as eulogy virtues. I’m free to share my wisdom, love my family, enjoy my friends, teach my grandchildren, to leave a meaningful legacy. It is the gift of years. And “They will still bear fruit in old age . . .”