An Existential Perspective On Ageing?

As we grow older, the tendency to look back becomes stronger and stronger.  In some ways, this is a good thing; in others, it is not.  For example, one of the things we might reflect on is the sense of immense possibility we carried around with us as we journeyed through life in our early twenties.  Whether it be career choices, travel plans or whatever, time is on our side and our opportunities thereof are seemingly endless. As we grow older, relationship and work commitments narrow those choices.  Or do they?

One of my favourite authors, the Psychiatrist and founder of Logotherapy and Existential Analysis, Dr. Viktor Frankl, invites us to look at life from a different, more holistic perspective.  Here’s what he says in his book ‘The Doctor & The Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy‘:

The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calender, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who takes life in the sense suggested above is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calender and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors – after first having jotted down a few diary notes, on the life that he has already lived to the full.  What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic for his own youth?  What reason has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that young person has, the future that us in store for him? ‘No, thank you,’ he will think, ‘instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past – not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of suffering suffered.  These are the things of which I am most proud….’.

I love the way Frankl frames this existential question and, ultimately its answer.  Maturing in years should be celebrated.  After all, was it not written in Proverbs 16:31 that ‘A gray head is a crown of glory; It is found in the way of righteousness’? As Frankl well knew, and learned from his own incredibly painful experiences in the Holocaust, life has meaning in all circumstances and in all its stages.  A powerful message indeed!

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