Gift of old age

Great article on “The Wisdom of the Aged” in the NYT. Here are some of my favorite quotes & questions from it:

In New York City, the population age 85 and up has been growing at five times the rate for the city as a whole, doubling since 1980 to about 150,000. For this often invisible population, the first of its size, what does an older life really look like? And can it be better?

Life won out — and not just life, but a life that reflected the complicated individuals navigating it. Mr. Sorensen wanted to die, but he also wanted to mop the kitchen floor, and he did his exercises every morning. “So I’m still trying,” he said. “I don’t know why.”

What can society gain from people like Ms. Moses, who no longer pay income taxes or raise families?

Plenty, said Monika Ardelt, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Florida, one of a group of researchers who have begun to study whether older really is wiser. Their answer is a qualified yes: that even as the brain slows down or memory deteriorates, older people are often better decision-makers, recognizing patterns or being more attuned to the effects of their decisions.

The frailer or closer to death people became, the greater the role wisdom played in their feelings of well-being. Wisdom may not necessarily increase with old age — other researchers have found that it does not — but it becomes more central to people’s lives as they age, and compensates for much of the decline.

For Mr. Mekas, old age was like younger age: an imperative to pay attention to the moment and do good in it.

Maybe this is a gift of old age: that in its assault on the present moment, it also elevates it as the thing worthy of our concentration.

& my favorite…

“I would say, that I am applying the ‘butterfly wing’ theory to my everyday life,” he wrote. “It’s a kind of moral dictum, moral responsibility to keep in mind that whatever I do this second affects what the next second will be. So I try not to do anything negative, which is my best insurance that the world will be better next second, or at least not worse. But of course, my positive action may be undermined by 100 negative actions of others and so it may mean nothing. But I still have to follow that dictum. You can call it optimism.”

As a “young person”, I find myself more and more wanting to both gaze far ahead into the future and ground myself firmly in the present. My life feels long and short at the same time and I can see how someone could wake up one day and be 90. I have lived so much in the last year – I have traveled, loved, witnessed greatness, lost many things, and have done 2395285 things that terrified me. I have also had so many simple moments – eating breakfast nice and slow while lazily reading a book I probably won’t finish. To read thoughts from those much older than me gives me hope that I too one day will have a more peaceful and accepting perspective of the world around us. Slowly but surely, I hope to get to the point where I don’t need an assault on the present moment for it to be elevated in my life as the priority. I think this probably is why I enjoy going to graveyards – they immediately put everything in perspective.


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