Friday 22 January 2021

Death and the Dead: the proper work of old age

This is aimed mainly at the elderly among my readership. 

Who are the old? It is approximately the last quarter of life when a Man is 'old'. Since the natural human lifespan is about 70 years, then the last quarter commences at about age 53. 

So, if you are that age or older you just-are Old, and ought to acknowledge the fact because there is work to be done!

What kind of work? If he is wise - a Man's thoughts will (and should) begin to turn towards death. Death is the work

The nature of 'work' in old age is provided-for by our natural disposition, and by the waning of other concerns and capacities. Modern people see old age in terms of loss of abilities (and appearance). 

This is because biological ageing does not generate any genuine 'compensatory' increase in other abilities - so the phenomenon seems wholly negative. 

So much for biology... It is  when we include the spiritual as our focus that we can see 'compensatory phenomena'. 

What old age brings is not capabilities but possibilities. There is a spontaneous tendency for a change in patterns of activity, sleep, and interests that are suited to the tasks of old age. 

These tasks are, broadly, a coming to terms with mortal (finite) human life, and the implications for the nature and meaning of death

This is why older people are spontaneously interested by the past - especially their own past, and by those who are dead. These natural changes provide clues to the spiritual task of the old. 

I get the impression that very few of today's old people are engaged in these proper and necessary tasks; essentially because they have decided that death will be an end for them and everyone, an annihilation. 

(Probably this is why modern old people are (in general) such a vain, foolish, and selfish bunch of parasites - as revealed so graphically by their terrified, hysterical and resentful response to the birdemic fraud.)

But if we instead assume that death is a transformation, we can begin to work on the nature and implications of that transformation...

The implications for our-selves, for those who have already died (the 'so-called dead', as Rudolf Steiner called them), and for those who love who will (at some point) face that transformation. 

That is (or should be) the primary work of the elderly. And, unlike many activities, it is something that the old are naturally equipped and inclined to do.  

Of course, this work cannot and should not be the whole of life; any more than going-to-school, playing, finding-a-spouse, raising kids, or making-a-living, or any other single activity can be the whole of life in earlier years. 

But it is something we ought to be doing in old age - and if we aren't doing it, then we will almost certainly experience old age as a net-negative phenomenon, a life-phase of overall-loss - and respond with an escalatingly desperate and delusional clinging to the activities and appearances of youth. 


Adil said...

I agree that the older one gets the more spiritual one should become. Unfortunately I have noticed the opposite in my own elders. The older they have become, the more worldly and politically minded they have become, as media focuses their minds on trivialities. The horrible effects of the news are often pronounced among the very elderly, as it makes them anxious and afraid of the world - but is oftentimes their only source of meaning. After all, if you don't believe in God, there really isn't any inner life to be tended to.

The birdemic has shown that for many the most important thing in life seems not to die. I wonder if that's up to us, or God.

Maybe it's my imagination, but when young or relatively young people die suddenly, I sometimes entertain the thought that maybe they accomplished some purpose and were ready to go.

As the saying goes, good die early, the bad die late, the best of men cannot suspend their fate. Maybe there really is something to your idea that God lets people live longer today on average in order to realize some purpose.

John Douglas said...

Very good summary of 'the proper work of old age' and a suitable update of your thoughts from two years ago when you asked "What is the purpose of old age?"
I responded to your question here -
To add my own update: you take 53 as the commencement of old age but I would place it at somewhere between 56 and 58 as that was when I more or less stepped back from working life (I am now 76)
Yesterday I was in my local 'corner shop' and the proprieter's 7 year old daughter who was sitting at the counter asked me "Why are you always so happy?" And I replied "Because I am old."
I think contentment is a better description than happiness and at this stage I have a feeling of anticipation similar to the feeling I had as a child in the days before Christmas, a feeling that something wonderful is coming!

Philip Keefe said...

THE INNER VOICE by Philip Keefe

As his late decades onward roll
With fewer things he can control
He listens to that voice within
Which advocates self-discipline.

Such words as these maintain morale:
“I don't want to, yet I shall”
Say, swallowing a bitter pill:
“I don't want to, but I will.”

Facing then some simple choice
He won't escape the inner voice;
And very clearly does it say
“No, do not take the easy way!”

When doing little he'd prefer
And further effort would defer,
Still it tells him “Sorry, no,
Once more the extra mile you go!”

Thus driven by his conscience' call,
Refusing to give less than all,
With power of will he reaffirms
He's living yet on his own terms

And he augments his times of ease
By doing things that may not please,
Which makes the pleasant sweeter still:
He may not want to, but he will.

Bruce Charlton said...

@PK - Well, I don't really agree that this is the special task of age, indeed I think that the old are much less capable of this kind of adherence to principle, extra effort and powerful willing than are the middle aged (say those aged 35-52).

It's not that these things you mention are bad! - but I am trying to clarify that to which the changes of ageing are especially well-suited.