How Growing Older Can Become a Good Thing

How is retirement going?  It’s a question I’m often asked these days.   Since I’m well into my 80thyear I don’t think about it that much.

Retirement was very much on my mind in my 60’s as I neared the end of my institutional employment. I knew it was coming before age 60 when like everyone else at 55 I received an invitation to join AARP, about the time gerontologists suggest we join the ranks of the elderly.

Then in my early 70’s I woke up one morning and found myself unemployed without a pay check, no corporate credit card, dependent upon Social Security and Medicare.   And the familiar work-related phone calls ceased.

I’ve adjusted to all that.   This life without a boss and without having to be a boss seems like the way it should be right now.   It’s a life of freedom, challenge and yes, hope for the future.

I’ve learned much about this time of life from the late Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, (1924-2014) rereading his 1995 book ‘From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older.’

His life’s work was to change the way we think about aging, and the way we behave as “elders” – a term he prefers to “the elderly.”  An elder for him is ‘a person who is still growing, still a learner, still with potential, still in pursuit of happiness, joy and pleasure.’

He reminded us that age alone does not make one a wise elder.  ‘People don’t automatically become sages,’he wrote, ‘simply by living to a great age.’  We become wise by undertaking the inner work of what he calls ‘spiritual eldering.’

He admits that it is not easy given how we unconsciously internalize the negative images of aging in our youth-oriented society.   He warns that ‘ageism’ is as degrading as sexism and racism.  The inevitability of life’s end can be overwhelming.

I’ve found that the work of ‘spiritual eldering’has given me the tools needed to face my own mortality.   It’s not for the faint of heart.

During my 80thyear I’ve undergone chemo treatment for lymphoma. Thankfully it is now in remission. Which makes me a cancer survivor twice over having survived prostate cancer earlier in life.

This inner work requires commitment.  As Rabbi Zalman wrote, it’s a process during which, ‘our identity comes not from what we do, but from who we are.’  Elders learn that they no longer need to rush around to prove their self-worth by performance in the work world.

From this new identity, moving from “age-ing to sage-ing,” elders continue learning and leading by giving back, or as some now describe it – giving forward, particularly through mentoring younger people and engaging in worthwhile projects that will outlive us.

That’s a good thing!


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9 Responses to How Growing Older Can Become a Good Thing

  1. Mike Meeks says:

    Always look forward to, with appreciation, your posts. This one is most helpful as recently my role changed from Oklahoma District interim trainer and adjunct instructor at SNU to pastor of Oklahoma City Lakeview Park COTN.

    Though 69 years of age, I am excited and determined about the privilege of being an “elder” leading this great church family through its own “elder-ing” phase of church life.

    Prayers for you.

  2. Newell Smith says:

    Your blog could not have been more timely. We just arrived in Florida this past weekend and are still unpacking. Admittedly some of the things you address in your blog I have already been dealing with.. although I know there will be new opportunities ahead right now things just feel so much different. Your blog encourages me and reminds me to keep the faith. Sorry we never got your visit to Philadelphia in the schedule but if you are headed Florida way we have a guest bedroom in Kissimmee near all the attractions. Hope to connect with you and Pat somewhere down the road. Blessings.

  3. Holland Lewis says:

    Thanks Tom… A mutual friend, Bob Scott, give me that book “aging to see Jean“, about 20 or 25 years ago. Impacting! I used it’s strong teachings,… Which you have referenced, and a message I was asked to deliver to the ministers of Yakima when I came to the “and“ at Wesvalley church. I have noticed this week that my wife found the book, pulled it from the shelf, and his reading. Your words have encouraged me to take my own refreshing look into Rebba’s almonds helpful teachings. Thanks, Holland

  4. Jerry Kester says:

    Such good advice and perspective. I have appreciated you influence in my life. I want to follow your pattern of growing older. Jerry

  5. Dodie Brady says:

    Beautiful article Tom. SO glad the lymphoma is in remission. You have given a lot to so many. Who you are is a treasure. Thank you for writing and posting this piece.

  6. art alexander says:

    Thank you Tom…very well said. I’m not even one month into my “retirement” and already beginning to experience much of what you have written about. Thank you for “going before” and then writing about it. It’s very helpful.
    I’m getting the book From Age-ing to Sage-ing.

  7. Dave Felter says:

    Tom, your wisdom and insight truly helped prepare me for my own retirement. I was so blessed to have your friendship during those years leading up to my retirement, almost five years ago. I’ve drawn deeply from the well of wisdom your insight, experience, and expertise provide me in those conversations. Stay thirsty, my friend!

  8. Lois says:

    Hi Brother Tom,
    Always look forward to reading your blog and this one is relevant and helpful. You help show us younger elders the way. I just received a shirt from my daughter that shows a woman hiking with the caption “And she lived happily ever after. “ I know these years as an elder can be very challenging as the maintenance work on the body increases. But recognizing and cherishing the moments of joy along the way become even more precious. Thanks for being a wonderful elder brother and friend.

  9. Larry Dennis says:

    Definitely have my attention. Appreciate your insights, candor and resources. “Age-ing to Sage-ing” is scheduled for delivery tomorrow. Blessings!

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