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Getting old isn’t so bad if you have someone to get old with. The young are tempted to think they have it all, but the old have a lot the young don’t know about. Some drives for excitement and pleasure may not be as keen in older people, but they’re just as lovely, just as satisfying. Lovers can be better lovers and friends can be better friends when they’re older because they know more and have more experience to bring to life in all its phases!
The young bring their joyful impulsiveness and drive to one another with their energy and appetite. But while older people don’t lack passion, they bring other emotions and experiences to their being together, and so create an atmosphere filled with more than hunger.
Beyond the passion there is the deep and abiding friendship, the contentment, the relaxed, non-feverish tone that enters the lives of people who’ve grown older in love together. And this kind of supreme human happiness can only come to people who have this long-standing love relationship.
To sense this, and the deep pleasure of it all, you only have to listen to Peggy Lee’s 1961 recording of the beautiful Kern & Hammerstein song, The Folks Who Live On The Hill. The song traces the young love that builds a cottage with a stunning view; “a cottage that two can fill” up to the time when they need to add a “wing or two, a thing or two” and finally, to the later years:
And when the kids grow up and leave us
We’ll sit and look at that same old view,
Just we two,
Baby and Joe
Who used to be “Jack and Jill,”
Who love to be called,
What they have always been called,
“The folks who live on the hill”.
The young shouldn’t read this and feel this is the life for them at present. They must not only be allowed to be young—they’re to be encouraged to rejoice in the pleasures that come as part of the world of the young. No, I’m not trying to talk the young out of their youth and into premature old age—we need them young. Charles Wagner has somewhere said:
“We need impulsive forces, impatient of yokes and curbs, disposed
to take risks, for whom a hazard of fortunes holds no terrors, and whom danger allures. The fires of the world would have gone out through prudence and calculation, if each new generation had not brought us its contingent of fine temerity.”
On the other hand, it won’t hurt the young to recall what Victor Hugo said: “Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age.” We older folk aren’t dead yet and to enrich our pleasures we have the advantage of having been young! The young need to remember they’ll one day be older and should live and love together now so that the later years will be as rich and joy-filled as the present.
Mitch Albom used to meet regularly with his friend, Morrie Schwartz who was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. They discussed aging one Tuesday and Mitch asked him if he envied the young. It was a strongly qualified “yes”. Morrie reminded him that the young don’t have it so easy and that he himself had been young. Here’s how he put it:
“The truth is; part of me is every age. I’m a three-year-old, I’m a thirty-seven-year-old, I’m a fifty-year-old. I’ve been through them all, and I know what it’s like. I delight in being a child when it’s appropriate to be a child. I delight in being a wise old man when it’s appropriate to be a wise old man. Think of all I can be! I am every age, up to my own. Do you understand?”
Part of the joy of a life lived out in love when we’re young is that we can become older lovers—fathers, mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers who continue to shape the world. Who continue to shape it with their faith in Christ, with the glad hearts and hopeful spirits they’ve gained down the years; passing on to their children and their children not only their faith but their own personal stories of laughter and silliness. Stories that were created during hard times as well as the easy; stories that speak not only of survival but good-humored lunacy and nutty behavior; stories that insist that life need not be bleak, a grim plod toward the grave.
The good news offered by the Hebrew-Christian scriptures is this: You can rejoice in it all—youth, middle and older age—and that doesn’t exhaust it. There’s more to come! There’s eternal life, that is, life in and with God that has no end. The good news is that the sheer pleasure of a love life between friends or husbands and wives and families can and should be purposed to bring God glory here and now. The gift of human love should be seen not only as God’s creation and gift but as a blessed privilege to enrich the world by living it out in the world’s presence. And part of the beauty of all this is that we live the privilege by rejoicing in it! We don’t have to apologize for taking pleasure in it; the pleasure is part of the gift and privilege.
All of a sudden I don’t feel at all troubled by the fact that I’m well into my seventies. The “folks who live on the hill” have a lot going for them.
Robert Browning in his Rabbi Ben Ezra spoke this truth:
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The best of life, for which the first was made.