I can’t remember who said “Growing Old isn’t for Sissies”, but the
phrase shows up frequently in conversations and workshops on growing
older. It is one of those ‘true/cute’ maxims that makes you want to
laugh and cry at the same time. This blog is about enrolling everyone
in the idea that older age is something to look forward to and not fear
or resist. So it is probably worth spending some moments reflecting on
this phrase. It suggests that we need to have courage as we grow older.

we do need courage to grow older. Not because old age is inherently
threatening or difficult. We need courage because every day we are
faced with a choice. It is the choice that is implicit or explicit in
virtually every spiritual discipline — the choice between surrendering,
accepting life on life’s terms,
being grateful for the life we have, and celebrating our relationship
with the Mystery, and resisting, complaining, resenting, regretting,
and, to one degree or another, suffering the decline and loss that has become hallmark of the culture of aging in most of the Western world.

Choosing to accept life on its own terms takes courage, particularly
if you’ve focused your time and energy on pursuing accomplishment and
trying to control all the various elements in your life. The longer I
live, the clearer I become that, at the end of the day, we do not have
the control we thought we had. Courage isn’t about being strong or
being the last person standing. It is about having the wisdom and
dignity to acknowledge your vulnerability, while continuing to generate
and be responsible for actions that hopefully will assist others and
leave the world a bit better than you found it. Courage is a brave
combination of openness and strength, insight, action and service.

I think that beneath our fears and uncertainty we all have this kind
of courage and a deep and abiding desire to make a difference, to leave
something of our life experience and learning behind, if only for our

I wrote in Old Isn’t Elder that being an Elder is a role granted by a community and not an
entitlement of longevity. What I didn’t say is that Elders are
courageous in that they have declared a willingness to keep on giving
until their last day, regardless of their circumstances. They are
willing to ‘let go’ of the past and relate to the future as a
constantly expanding space of possibility and opportunity to contribute.

I don’t think I appreciated Elders when I was growing up. Today, I
realize they were the people who remained there for me even when I was
too busy to notice and when I was so full of myself that I couldn’t
listen to their wise counsel. I now thank them for their patience and
compassion and for the courage they had to keep on giving—even when no
one was listening.