“Old age,” in Louis Kronenberger’s view, “is an excellent time for outrage. My goal,” he went on, “is to say or do at least one outrageous thing a week. There is one state of mind that says, “We’re all getting older. You just can’t do some things anymore.” The other says, “I’ve always wanted to see the Pyramids of Giza, so this year, I’m going. I’ve always wanted to take mandolin lessons, so now I will.” The future is a very sweet part of getting older. It is something to be grasped with fervor. It gets more intense, more alive, more essential every day. To those who have finally become aware of the presence of time in their lives, the future is no longer “out there.” The future is here, snapping at the heels, becoming more and more demanding as we go. Most people live as if everything they are doing now, they could simply do later. For them there is no urgency to life. But those who have come roaring into their sixties, full of life, relatively secure, brimming with ideas and finally full of self-confidence, come face-to-face with mortality as never before. There is, they discover with a jolt, an end to time. Then questions emerge with fierce intensity: The job is finished, the children are gone, life has gone stale, gone sour, gone cold. What do we do with time now? Do we simply live it out or fill it up? And if we’re supposed to fill it up, with what and for what use? There is a state of mind struggling to come alive now. There is a sense of urgency that comes with the awareness of time, the thought that there is so much else to life than what I have known till now. It may be here, in fact, that we learn what life is actually all about. Old age is the time for letting out the spirit of outrage, the courageous spirit that comes of having walked through life. Now we can let our spirits fly. We can do what our souls demand that full human beings do. This is the moment for which we were born. There is nothing to stop us now. Wherever we are needed, we can go now. Whatever we would like to do, we can do. Whatever must be said, we can say it. Mother Jones, who worked the sweatshops of New York for years, stood up in her sixties, organized the Knights of Labor, and led strikes and rallies for the welfare of the working class through her entire old age. “That woman,” a congressman is said to have shouted, “is the most dangerous woman in America!” Old age is the time to be dangerous. It is the time to live with an edge, with strength, with abandon. There is nothing for which to save our energy. Now it is simply time to spend time well.
—from The Gift of Years (Blue Bridge), by Joan Chittister