Getting old is not about age. It’s not about growing older. It’s about loss of purpose and loss of hope. It is loss of belief in one’s self that leads to loss of dreams.
I’ve been thinking a lot about people lately, many who have passed, and so my words may be like tea that has brewed too long. I’ve been mulling over how some people just get old and others grow into elders. A number of the people I thought about were much older than I am now. A few of them were not old in years but old in their minds. I’ve been thinking about how people catch the Getting-Old disease.
I started this depressive commentary with the concept that Getting-Old is not about age. No, Getting-Old is about wandering into the morass of counting time. Isn’t that what most workers do? Counting hours until they can go home. Counting days until the weekend comes when they can do what they want. Counting years until they can retire when they will spend everyday doing whatever they want to do.
That is the root of the disease called Getting-Old. It is spending time doing one thing until it is time to do the next thing. Getting-Old is not about whether an individual works or does not work. It is not about the number of birthdays or moving towards retirement. It’s about putting off life. It’s about putting off what you wish for, aspire to, crave doing because there is always something on the to-do list that someone thinks must be done, someone says is more important, or because of that most demanding of masters, the deadline.
There is another root of the Getting-Old disease. It is even more insidious than counting time. It is something that grows more virulently than cancer. Side-by-side with counting time is fear.
Not simply fear, it’s when fear grows too large, when fear overwhelms the entire experience, when fear earns a capital letter. It is no longer a moment when the heart rushes, a minute that comes along side new experience. It is Fear that pervades all decisions, prevents attempts at new experiences, and becomes the emotion that blocks all movement. Fear of something going wrong. Fear of what others would think. Fear of judgment. Fear of looking foolish. Fear of mistakes. Fear of not finishing, of not being able to finish the task. Maybe even fear of finishing the task, making the goal. And what many view as the worst Fear of all: fear of failure.
All of those fears sprout and we give ourselves wounds: judgment, denial, blame, guilt. Soon we have a lifetime trip into the morose of Fear with its companions regret, anguish, shame, and aversion. It’s the rockslide that becomes a habit.
How do we plummet down to Getting-Old? Fear should be a guidepost but not a destination. We use fear to diminish our desires. We work through life counting the time until we can do what we wish. Then we beat the cravings up with our fear. Finally, we numb the pain of that beating with our rationalizations. All of that cycling downwards away from our goals and dreams towards Getting-Old.
If it were a meal, it would be a sandwich made out of the meat of desire surmounted by the bread of fear and seasoned with the bitter herbs of misery. Perhaps it is time to try a new sandwich. Switch your attitude to view fear a bit differently. Think of oregano and thyme. Fear is like spice in the spaghetti sauce: too much and you can’t stomach the meal, too little and the dish is boring.