I was buying a few groceries at the local market last month and was engaged in a pleasant conversation with a young cashier. As I was swiping my credit card she asked if I perhaps needed someone to help carry the bags of groceries out to my car for me. I replied that I was fine, and we exchanged the obligatory remarks to have a nice day to each other as I walked off. While driving home I came to the conclusion that I was now qualified to write about old age, as it had been decided for me a few minutes before that such was the case.
 
Over the last few years it seems I have developed the ability to just say no. It is a gift. No, I really don’t want to be on a third charity board. Two is enough. No, I don’t want to drive 90 miles to be the first to have dinner at a brand new restaurant, I’ll wait a year and see what you tell me about it then. No, I don’t want to become involved in politics, unless I can actually make a difference in some realistic way. For all these “opportunities” I no longer struggle with finding an excuse, or, even worse, acquiescing just to pacify someone. I simply say thank you very much, but no. Older now, I have at last taken control of the hours of my life, at least as much as is within my power.
 
It is well known that a serious illness can sometimes result in an epiphany, if one is fortunate enough to recover. But what I have come to understand is the minor insults that old age inflicts on the body are also subtle reminders. Typing this, the arthritis in the fingers is a constant. The pain is quite mild, but always present. The hearing is beginning to go, with a slight reduction in acuity every year. And the list goes on. I can bemoan it, or I can recognize that each diminishment is actually a physical restatement of the words carpe diem, and the reminders now come every day.
 
A few years ago my opinions about most everything in life mattered. People that I barely knew would listen as I held forth about some topic or other. And my words were often well thought out and helpful, or so it seemed. But it now happens less and less. For I am obviously not up to date, so there is no need to inquire as to my opinions on the crucial issues now facing us. I am no longer asked, so I am no longer obligated. It is a gift. Now I have more time to think about the only two things that matter. The first is the source of this energy which descends and animates a human being. The second is the mystery of death. 
 
When in the wilderness there may sometime arise the need to find water, perhaps  because one is a little thirsty, but perhaps because the situation is dire, and one’s life depends on it. Then, if one knows how to look, once can see the tracks of an animal. And if one sees tracks of several animals, all heading in the same direction, one is well advised to follow them. For almost certainly one will come to water.
 
All the indications given to us by old age are like that. They are signs pointing away from manifestation and towards being. The understanding that the direction one needs to take, away from mechanical doing and instead moving inward towards a conscious freedom, illuminates the journey of an elder. All the indications, taken together, are then a source of joy. For they point towards the source.
 
And, finally, it is not a question of giving up all activity in order to become a recluse. Rather, the activities that one retains are now those that support the quest. Different for each of us, they are the activities that are aligned with our journey inwards. It is all now cut from a single cloth, and is the joy of old age.
 
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