--- Matthew Arnold
What is it to grow old?
Is it to lose the glory of the form,
The luster of the eye?
Is it for beauty to forego her wreath?
—Yes, but not this alone.
Is it to feel our strength—
Not our bloom only, but our strength—decay?
Is it to feel each limb
Grow stiffer, every function less exact,
Each nerve more loosely strung?
Yes, this, and more; but not
Ah, ’tis not what in youth we dreamed ’twould be!
’Tis not to have our life
Mellowed and softened as with sunset glow,
A golden day’s decline.
’Tis not to see the world
As from a height, with rapt prophetic eyes,
And heart profoundly stirred;
And weep, and feel the fullness of the past,
The years that are no more.
It is to spend long days
And not once feel that we were ever young;
It is to add, immured
In the hot prison of the present, month
To month with weary pain.
It is to suffer this,
And feel but half, and feebly, what we feel.
Deep in our hidden heart
Festers the dull remembrance of a change,
But no emotion—none.
It is—last stage of all—
When we are frozen up within, and quite
The phantom of ourselves,
To hear the world applaud the hollow ghost
Which blamed the living man.
That's the pessimist's view of aging. As I discussed not long ago, we need, in the stories we tell ourselves, to find the real, the true, and the false, and "to use our moral imagination to lead ourselves away from cynicism and toward hope." Otherwise, we end up like Arnold: facing aging with the desire to wrap our lips around the tailpipe of a Ford Mustang, gun the engine, and inhale deeply.
A different view of aging is told in the marvelous "little" movie, "Still Mine," written and directed by Michael McGowan and staring James Cromwell and Geneviève Bujold. On one level a story about a stubborn old man's struggle with the suffocating encroachment of federal bureaucracy, on a much deeper level it is the story of the deep and lasting love of a man and woman who remained side-by-side through sixty-one years. It is also a story of family, friendship, and how flawed and ultimately fragile human beings live with, and love, one another through all the barriers that the world, and their own limitations of character, erect. It is the kind of story that gives me faith in the power of love to survive, and, ultimately, to triumph over age and death.
A wonderful twist toward the end was the backdrop of the Mumford and Sons song "After the Storm." The achingly evocative lyrics gave voice to the anti-Arnold story of aging: the body and mind may decay, but as long as there remains grace in your heart, love will prevail.
At least, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.