Friday, January 8, 2010

The Fountain of Youth

An article in today’s New York Times comments on the growth of adventure tourism among the elderly

The poet Longfellow saw aging as a new phase of opportunity. Modern society too often views it as a time for neglect, disease and decline. The difference is solely one of attitude toward the process.

No one can deny age poses certain limitations. But the greatest of those are self-imposed.

It was Adler who first proposed civilization arose out of human physical limitations. In other words, man, despite his physical inferiority, gained superiority over the wild beasts by developing his intelligence—a capacity some in this century appear determined to relinquish.

George Bernard Shaw, a supreme example for any experiencing age defeatism, said men die of “…laziness, and want of conviction, and failure to make their lives worth living.” And, “…it was by meditating on Life (rather than death) that I gained the power to do miracles.”

That miracles of achievement are possible in spite of age has been demonstrated repeatedly throughout history and, most particularly, by practitioners of the arts. Scientists probing the mystery of longevity among conductors, composers and other musicians have found some common denominators including a joyful and optimistic outlook, resolute purpose, regular exercise and consistent intellectual stimulation.

And that recipe isn’t restricted to musicians.

Jean Frederic Waldeck was in his late sixties when he began his exploration of Mayan sites in the wilds of Yucatan and doubted he had the physical stamina to resist the dangers, disease and privation to complete his work. Yet this extraordinary man lived to the ripe old age of 109 and was described by contemporaries in Paris as a vigorous and intellectual man, a charming conversationalist and an avid girl-watcher up to the day of his death.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of some of the most elegant prose ever penned in this country, began her crusade to save Florida’s Everglades when she was 80 and continued that fight and her literary efforts till she succumbed at the age of 101.

Actor-director Clint Eastwood, who will turn 80 in May, said in a recent interview he won’t retire because he learns something new everyday. “You want to do something? Just do it the best you can, whatever that is,” he said.

That’s good advice for any age, but especially for those of us on the far side of 45.

As the great Cervantes put it, “While there’s life there’s hope.”

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