I really don’t understand our culture’s embrace of ageism. I want to blame it on the baby boomers (who are now old) but I’m not sure that’s accurate. The youth culture of the 60s with its “don’t trust anyone over 30” mantra certainly fed it, but I don’t think they started it. And it’s not just that I’m older than the median age, either, because I didn’t understand it even when I was on the other side.
In general, youth is full of lots of hubris and shortsightedness. (Mine was.) Age, properly reflected upon, brings experience and maybe even a bit of wisdom. There just isn’t much I look to people younger than me for, at least not because they are young. I seek information and answers from people younger than me all the time, but it is normally because they have more experience in a certain area. It may be that they have been in a particular building more than I have, so they can probably point me to the men’s room.
Age gives us perspective and having a longer perspective can be helpful in life. It is an aid to determining what is significant and what is merely annoying. When I was a chaplain for a basic training battalion, a lot of my counsel to the soldiers in training was just trying to lift up their heads a bit to give them some perspective. “It’s only 9 weeks.” The ones who were able to embrace the hope of something different on the other side of graduation usually did pretty well. Those that fixated on today struggled.
But perspective isn’t just about getting through the rough spots, it is also about appreciating the warm and soft spots. We should learn to stop and smell the roses along the way as the old cliché (and Mac Davis song) tell us. I remember thinking my mom was a little strange in her capacity to sit on our screen porch when I was growing up and seemingly do nothing. She sometimes read, but she seemed to spend a lot of time just watching the cars go by and the squirrels scampering. It may not have been as much time as my juvenile memory thinks it was, but it was enough to make an impression on me. Older now myself, I find my capacity for just sitting and watching has increased significantly. Granted, there is often something going on in my head when I’m staring out the window, but not always.
One of the benefits of experience and perspective is that it helps us understand what is truly valuable. We bought a new car recently. It’s a nice car and it’s nice to have transportation, but buying it wasn’t a significant life event for me. I’m much more pleased that my wife and I are getting into a habit of taking a walk every night after dinner. Some day both the car and the after dinner walks will be gone. I’ll miss the walks much more than the car.
If we are willing to seek out those older than us (and preferably wiser as well) we can learn some of these lessons earlier than we may otherwise. That provides real enrichment to our lives. That helps us spend our days in a way that we will look back on in a decade or two without regrets. When you want wisdom, look for gray hair.