Courage and Dignity

It is time to be old, To take in sail: The god of bounds, Who sets to seas a shore, Came to me in his fatal rounds, And said: “No more! No farther shoot Thy broad ambitious branches, and thy root. Fancy departs: no more invent; Contract thy firmament To compass of a tent. There’s not enough for this and that, ... Leave the many and hold the few.    Terminus, Ralph Waldo Emerson


Picture: Seapiece by moonlight, Caspar David Friedrich

Scripture: The prophet Anna was also there in the temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. In her youth she had been married for seven years, but her husband died. And now she was eighty-four years old. Night and day she served God in the temple by praying and often going without eating. At that time Anna came in and praised God. She spoke about the child Jesus to everyone who hoped for Jerusalem to be set free.

Courage Miss Honeychurch, courage!

On the day he died the photographer Cecil Beaton penned a letter, writing: 'Oh what courage we all need!'* This echoes the often quoted phrase ‘old age is not for cissies!’ For, three of the most stressful events in life come together in our later years: Selling your house, illness and bereavement, of a spouse and peers.

Hardened or supple faith

This rawness of experience is at a time of declining physical strength and cloudy mental acumen. There appear to be two routes to go down: encrustation and inflexibility or a sort of lightfootedness or lightheartedness in the face of changing circumstances. Old age transfigures or fossilizes^. A hardened and set faith or a supple faith. The 84 year old prophetess Anna, widowed after 7 years of marriage, praying and waiting for the Messiah possibly illustrates the latter. This word 'dignity' seems to most conjure up an acceptance of the contractions in later life - 'leave the many and hold the few' - with a very resilient and purposeful spirit.

* Well-remembered friends, collected by Angela Huth. ^ Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach in Gift of Years by Joan Chittister