Grow old along with me

It was about 25 years ago but I still remember exactly where we were driving when we had the conversation.
We were passing St. Mary’s Catholic Church in my hometown. We were talking about aging and I recited my philosophy of aging.
“Grow old along with me!/The best is yet to be/The last of life, for which the first was made.”
And someone in the back seat piped up and said, “Get real, Marie.”
But the problem was I was “real.” I really believed that Robert Browning had caught the spirit of “aging well.”
I believed it 25 years ago. And now 25 years later, I’m sure of it!
I have never worried about getting old. What I really have worried about was the possibility that I wouldn’t get old!
My last grandparent, my maternal grandmother, died when I was 17 years old. I loved her dearly. She was a fun-loving, likeable person.
And as far as I could see, “The last of life, for which the first was made” fit her perfectly.
My maternal grandfather died before I was born. And my paternal grandparents, who lived in Canada, both died when I was quite young. I have no memory at all of my father’s father.
And my wonderful father died at age 62.
With that history, I’ve always hoped against hope that I would have the opportunity of growing old!
Now, if I were to grow old, I had two choices–Browning’s way or William Shakespeare’s way.
Browning had a positive attitude about growing old. He was not a Pollyanna; he understood the difficulties of every stage of life. But he also knew that being upbeat makes life better at any age.
And he wrote, “Since life fleets, all is change; the Past gone, seize to-day!”
On the other hand, Shakespeare says, “All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players/They have their exits and their entrances/And one man in his time plays many parts.”
Then Shakespeare continues with the seven ages of life from infancy to old age. Although somewhat cynical about all ages (writing of puking infants and whining schoolboys), he is absolutely merciless when it comes to old age.
“Last scene of all . . . is second childishness and mere oblivion/Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
That’s it. No redeeming comfort!
Living without teeth, eyes, and taste. Not being really aware of what’s happening around you. Living without “everything!”
Why live in a world like that? Or putting it another way, why set yourself up to live in a world like that?
Obviously, old age (like every age) has its difficulties. But knowing what we know about self-fulfilling prophecy, why would anyone dwell on the possibility that Shakespeare’s cynical view of aging is the right one?
Like it or not, aging is a sure thing. Once you’re born, you progress through life. But it’s up to you how you age: Shakespeare’s way or Browning’s way.
Why not follow Browning and choose to “Grow old along with me.” Enjoy your senses as long as possible. Be aware of your surroundings.
And exclaim, as Browning did, “How good to live and learn” as you age!
Marie Snider is an award-winning health writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at thisside60@cox.net

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