Finding gold in the Golden Age

Good News, by Helmar Heckel

I was standing in the hallway of the assisted living facility and a resident was slowly moving past me and I heard these words, "Where is the gold in the golden age?"

These words caught my attention. Indeed they challenged me. Since then I have thought much about that question.

Why do we call it "Golden Age?" Is it just a sentimental and idealistic coloring of an inevitable downhill journey at the end of life? And if there is "gold" someplace, how do we find it? And if there is no gold, why is there such an expectation?

I have come to some preliminary ideas that I would like to share with the readers.

First, it seems that "growing old" is a counter cultural idea. Our western society has fallen in love with youthfulness so that we have little room in our brain for growing old. We run from it, deny it, redefine it or ignore it.

Instead we glorify muscles, smooth skin, flexibility, cognitive ability and skinny bodies. A look at any magazine rack will confirm these observations. The less someone displays these qualities the more we marginalize them to the edge of importance.

So Older Americans feel such isolation and unimportance and experience it in their daily lives and finally mumble, "where is that gold?" which is really another way of saying, "I am bored to death!"

Secondly, death and old age are permanent conclusions to human life. We all die, some will die slowly and some quickly. That is reality. There is no escape from this life except through death and old age is the journey to death’s door.

We cannot avoid the inevitable. But we can make the journey much better and richer. One of the ways that can happen is to explore with an older person ways to find fresh meaning in life or hidden talents. Our painting class has given rise to many new and happy "artists." Or to help them discover patters that are destructive to human relationships and joy and help them reverse these pattern with forgiveness and graciousness.

Thirdly, unless I am a person that has found gold throughout life, finding gold in the golden age may be tough!

It’s a matter of perspective. Old age magnifies qualities we have brought into old age. If we are a happy person before we grow old, we will be a happy person in our old age. If we found gold [precious things like relationships, joy and peace] before we grow old, we find them during our old age. If we were judgmental and critical people before we grow old we will simply be more critical and judgmental during our old age. If we were satisfied and content during life, our old age will be days of satisfaction and contentment.

There is no silver magic moment when old age will open up like a rainbow of joy. It matters what we bring to the table from which we eat in our old age. Who we are before is who we will be then, except more.

I think this is part of the conclusion of Ecclesiastes 12. It says, "Remember also your Creator … before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, I have no delight in them…before the sun, the light … is darkened … before the silver cord is broken …."

So where is the gold in the golden age? 1. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mold by telling you that you’re over the hill and ready to be buried.

Old age is simply "body grown old" but the inner person still is vibrant and exciting. Old Caleb said at the age of 85 said, "Give me my mountain!"

2. Accept the transitory nature of life. We are here for a moment; we are a buff of smoke here today, gone tomorrow. We are a shooting star illuminating the sky of eternity for a split second. Accept this and think about this!

3. Get ready now, before you grow old, not by accumulating enough for retirement, but to gather the peace, the joy and memories, the contentment, the love and remember your creator. Bring all this to the table of old age because God promised "to prepare a table before you in the presence of your enemies."

Enjoy growing old, the final journey … and find your gold.

Chaplain Helmar Heckel is with the Good Samaritan Society, Waconia.