BY BILL REAGAN
Old age ain’t for sissies, but it’s better than the alternative.
A hundred years ago very few people thought about old age. Most human beings ever born did not live even 40 years. In 1900 about 4 percent of Americans were 65 or older. Today, four times as many people live past 65.
We have experienced an explosion of good health and long life, yet many don’t know what to do with it. The great malady of our modern age is ennui — boredom. If you are fortunate enough to live into old age you will have made three significant journeys.
The first journey answers the question “Who am I?” Babies are constantly exploring their world. “Can I touch it? Can I put it in my mouth?” They’re really learning, “Is this me? Is it not me?” It takes a good 25 to 30 years or so to find out what “me” is.
Life’s second journey answers the question “What am I?” When we meet a new person we want to know that person’s name. Then we always ask, “What do you do?” You may forget your new friend’s name, but you probably won’t forget what he or she does, and how that relates to what you do. Yet you are not what you do. Deepak Chopra puts it this way, “We are human beings, not human doings.”
Defining relationships develop in this second journey. We become husbands, wives, friends, lovers, fathers and mothers, grandparents in this journey. We make our mark in our community through our work and professions. This journey may last thirty, sometimes forty, years.
Finally, we ask “Why?” We find ourselves less concerned with success and more interested in significance. Men start saying “I love you” to their friends in this third journey. Women feel free for the first time in their lives to do what they really want to do. To some degree we answer all three questions in each journey. We have to answer them to fully be ourselves. If not, our fate is ennui, and what good is a life of boredom?
Bill Reagan is executive director of Loaves & Fishes of the Rio Grande Valley.