William Wordsworth’s poem, “The Fountain,” relates a conversation the poet once had with a seventy-two-year-old friend alongside a gurgling spring beneath a spreading oak tree. The older man was struggling with the thought of his own mortality, and, discouraged, he uttered the following words:
And here, on this delightful day,
I cannot choose but think
How oft, a vigorous man, I lay
Beside this fountain’s brink.
My eyes are dim with childish tears,
My heart is idly stirr’d,
For the same sound in is my ears
Which in those days I heard
Thus fares it still in our decay:
And yet the wiser mind
Mourns less for what age takes away,
Than what it leaves behind.
What a dismal picture of growing old! The poor old soul not only mourned what he had lost (e.g., friends, family members, youth), but also wept for that which he had gained in his old age—stiff joints, gray hair, and wrinkles.
Growing old does not have to be this way. In fact, listen to the contrast between Wordsworth’s poetry and that of David’s in the book of Psalms: “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age: they are ever full of sap and green” (Ps. 92:12-14). God has a plan for His seasoned saints. They are a reservoir of wisdom and creativity, and the church needs them now more than ever!
Michelangelo completed his final frescoes at 75. Benjamin Franklin invented bifocal glasses at 78 to help correct his own poor vision. Giuseppe Verdi finished “Falstaff,” his final opera, just eight months shy of his 80th birthday. Georgia O’Keeffe continued painting well into her 90s, despite failing eyesight. And Frank Lloyd Wright worked on the Guggenheim Museum until his death at 91. There is nothing wrong with growing old. In fact, if we maintain a positive perspective, we can even “flourish” in our latter years!