You Will Be What I Am (Newsletter 013)
I spent the day recently in the company of 100 or so senior citizens, most in their 70s. It was a full, active day, with a factory tour, several walks, some sightseeing, and lots and lots of talking. I remember being impressed when, at one of our stops, the organizer asked if there was anyone who was not interested or able to walk to our next destination, and not one hand went up. This was no doubt the healthiest group of seniors I've ever accompanied.
And yet. Despite the obvious vitality and joy of life. Behind the smiles and wit and laughter, there were signs. Signs that this was not a group of 30-year-olds, or even 50-year-olds. For one thing, I realized hearing loss is a real and pervasive issue, at least among men. Hearing aid or no, many conversational sallies were ventured into nothingness. Incompletely heard, partially understood. What I saw remaining on faces many times was an aching sense of the desire to connect, unfulfilled.
Still, I think the partial connection is better than what I otherwise observed, which is a retreat into solitude. Seemingly happy, but sitting in silence, watching the hustle around them but not taking part. The Stoics often tell us that we are most comfortable in our own presence, but to be alone in the presence of others is something different.
What else? Stories repeated a few times too often. A small harm, especially if it's a good story. A slower, more careful gait. Grateful use of the railing on stairways, and careful navigation of steps.
What struck me most over the course of the day, though, is how the topics of conversation converged, including what was absent. Noticeably missing was any mention of politics. How refreshing this was! In its place were accounts of trips and travel, the doings of children and grandchildren, and the indignities upon one's health wrought by the passage of time. Most were not complaining that I could tell. I would have said Stoic acceptance in most cases. If you age sufficiently, you will encounter decrepitude, disease, and death. This is less a matter of being lucky or unlucky, and more a matter of time.
Thus it was on the bus ride home I found my thoughts turning to the path we're all on. If you have spent any time in cemeteries studying tombstones, and who hasn't, you may have come across the Latin phrase Eram quod es, eris quod sum. This means "I was what you are, you will be what I am."
How much time separates you and me from the generation that preceded us? A mere 20 years? 25? They were once young and strong and gave no thought to aging. You could get no clearer picture of what lies in your personal future than to study your parents' generation. But this is a lesson we take up unwillingly. One of this week's letters provides some inspiration for you to contemplate this.
The other Moral Letter this week is titled On Admitting Mistakes. Just like we have cause to remember that we too will become aged (if we're lucky), we should apply some humility in pointing out the mistakes of others. Far better to watch over our own actions than to patrol every statement of our friends and colleagues, ready to pounce at the slightest misstep.
The first step to improving yourself is to admit that you can be wrong. Not only that you can be wrong, but that you almost certainly are wrong about many things. Having identified flaws in yourself, use your self-reflection to take action to correcting them. One of the best things about admitting mistakes is that you increase your chances of not repeating them.
If you are able to make this self-reflection a regular habit, you have a further wonderful opportunity that opens to you. You can observe prior generations and ask what they did well, and not so well. What will you do differently, and why? Remember, they were once just like you. If you merely do what they did, you will one day be just like them.