On Age

Henry Ford once said, “You take all the experience and judgment of men over fifty out of the world, and there wouldn’t be enough left to run it.”

He’s probably right. Even though we’re moving more and more toward placing youth in positions of responsibility and trust in the world, it’s still the people past fifty who run things.

I think people are like a lot of other things. Like furniture and silverware, if there’s real quality, they get better and more valuable with age. The nicks, dents, and scratches only add seasoning and richness to them.

You can still see the fine gleam of strength and inherent truth.

William Lyon Phelps once wrote something I like on this subject: “There are some foolish people who say, ‘Well, I mean to grow old gracefully.’ It is impossible; it can’t be done. Let’s admit it because it’s true. Old people are not graceful. Grace belongs to youth and is its chief charm. The poet Browning hints that youth has beauty and grace because youth would be intolerable without it.

“Young people are decorative; that’s why we like them. They are slender, agile, fair, and graceful because nobody could stand them if they were otherwise. It would be horrible if boys and girls, knowing as little as they do, were also bald, grey-headed, fat, wrinkled, and double-chinned. Then they would be unendurable. But nature has so arranged matters that young people are physically attractive until they acquire some brains and sense and are able to live by their wits; then they lose these superficial advantages.

“As responsibility grows, beauty and grace depart.

“The child sits on your knee and reaches for your watch. You smile. But when he’s thirty and reaches for your watch, you put him in jail. More is expected of us, more is demanded of us as we grow older. Nothing is more tragic, therefore, than a person of mature years with the mind of a child. There is in civilized society no place for them.

“But even if it were possible to grow old gracefully, it would be at best a form of resignation, a surrender; and a soldier of life should not take it lying down.

“Instead of growing old gracefully, suppose we grow old eagerly, grow old triumphantly.

“Is this possible? With the right mind and character, with the right attitude, with the right preparation, it is not only possible, it is probable. Joseph H. Choate was no deluded enthusiast; he was a hardheaded man of the world. When he was past seventy and eighty years of age, he said, ‘And I advise you all to hurry up and get there are soon as you can.’

“Let’s examine another facility. It is said that as we grow older, we lose our illusions. Of course we do. Who wants to hang on to illusions? What happens when you lose an illusion? Every time you lose an illusion, you gain a new idea. Ideas are more interesting, hence pleasure-giving, than illusions.

“The world as it is, men and women as they are, are more worth knowing than fancy pictures created by ignorance and inexperience.”

Who wants to look at the world through rose-colored glasses? I don’t. The world as it is, as it really is, is far more interesting, exciting and miraculous. The compensations of age are real, many and tangible and they make growing old well worthwhile.

The happiest people on earth are those with the most interesting thoughts, as Dr. Phelps puts it. And this definitely gives a decided advantage to people past fifty – when they’re interesting people.

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