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Are you being aged in a “cracked old barrel”?  Image: Winemakermag.com

It was Mark Twain who quipped:

I am very interested in the future… because that’s where I will spend the rest of my life.

In the same way we can be very interested in aging because that’s where we will spend the rest of our lives.

Thus I am particularly cued to listen for the lessons of aging from others. I recently read an article written by Fr. Ronald Rolheiser in the Kolbe Times who realized that he can no longer be considered young. I will leave it to him to speak for himself in “A Lesson in Aging“:

… Aging generally makes itself known in ways that have you denying it, fighting it, and accepting it only piecemeal, and with some bitterness.

But that day comes round for everyone when you’re surprised, stunned, that what you are seeing in the mirror is so different from how you have been imagining yourself and you ask yourself: “Is this really me? Am I this old person? Is this what I look like?”

… Moreover, gravity doesn’t just affect your body, pulling things downward. So too for the soul; it’s pulled downward along with the body, though aging means something very different here. The soul doesn’t age, it matures.

… Aging forces us, mostly against our will, to listen to our soul more deeply and more honestly so as to draw from its deeper wells and begin to make peace with its complexity, its shadow, and its deepest proclivities – and the aging of the body plays the key role in this. To employ a metaphor from James Hillman: The best wines have to be aged in cracked old barrels.

So too for the soul: The aging process is designed by God and nature to force the soul, whether it wants to or not, to delve ever deeper into the mystery of life, of community, of God, and of itself. Our souls don’t age, like a wine – they mature, and so we can always be young in spirit. Our zest, our fire, our eagerness, our wit, our brightness, and our humor, are not meant to dim with age. Indeed, they’re meant to be the very color of a mature soul.

So, in the end, aging is a gift, even if unwanted. Aging takes us to a deeper place, whether we want to go or not.

Like most everyone else, I still haven’t made my full peace with this and would still like to think of myself as young. However I was particularly happy to celebrate my 70th birthday four years ago, not because I was happy to be that age, but because, after two serious bouts with cancer in recent years, I was very happy just to be alive and wise enough now to be a little grateful for what aging and a cancer diagnosis has taught me. There are certain secrets hidden from health, writes John Updike. True. And aging uncovers a lot of them because, as the Swedish proverb puts it, “afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.

To read the full article go to A Lesson in Aging in the Kolbe Times.

What lessons have you learned about aging?

What hidden secrets from health have you uncovered?

What does your afternoon know that your morning never suspected?