When one says that he numbers among his acquaintances some who are as old at sixty as some others are at eighty, he but gives expression to a fact that has become the common possession of many. I have known those who at fifty-five and sixty were to all intents and purposes really older, more decrepit, and rapidly growing still more decrepit both in mind and body, than many another at seventy and seventy-five and even at eighty.
History, then, is replete with instances, memorable instances, of people, both men and women, who have accomplished things at an age- who have even begun and carried through to successful completion things at an age that would seem to thousands of others, in the captivity of age, with their backs to the future, ridiculous even to think of accomplishing, much less of beginning. On account of a certain law that has always seemed to me to exist and that I am now firmly convinced is very exact in its workings, I have been interested in talking with various ones and in getting together various facts relative to this great discrepancy in the ages of these two classes of " old" people.
Within the year I called upon a friend whom, on account of living in a different portion of the country, I hadn't seen for nearly ten years. Conversation revealed to me the fact that he was then in his eighty-eighth year. I could notice scarcely a change in his appearance, walk, voice, and spirit. We talked at length upon the various, so-called, periods of life. He told me that about the only difference that he noticed in himself as compared with his middle life was that now when he goes out to work in his garden, and among his trees, bushes, and vines- and he has had many for many years- he finds that he is quite ready to quit and to come in at the end of about two hours, and sometimes a little sooner, when formerly he could work regularly without fatigue for the entire half day. In other words, he has not the same degree of endurance that he once had.
Among others, there comes to mind in this connection another who is a little under seventy. It chances to be a woman. She is bent and decrepit and growing more so by very fixed stages each twelvemonth. I have known her for over a dozen years. At the time when I first knew her she was scarcely fifty-eight, she was already bent and walked with an uncertain, almost faltering tread. The dominant note of her personality was then as now, but more so now, fear for the present, fear for the future, a dwelling continually on her ills, her misfortunes, her symptoms, her approaching and increasing helplessness.
Such cases I have observed again and again; so have all who are at all interested in life and in its forces and its problems. What is the cause of this almost world-wide difference in these two lives? In this case it is as clear as day- the mental characteristics and the mental habits of each.
In the first case, here was one who early got a little philosophy into his life and then more as the years passed. He early realised that in himself his good or his ill fortune lay; that the mental attitude we take toward anything determines to a great extent our power in connection with it, as well as its effects upon us. He grew to love his work and he did it daily, but never under high pressure. He was therefore benefited by it. His face was always to the future, even as it is to-day. This he made one of the fundamental rules of his life. He was helped in this, he told me in substance, by an early faith which with the passing of the years has ripened with him into a demonstrable conviction- that there is a Spirit of Infinite Life back of all, working in love in and through the lives of all, and that in the degree that we realise it as the one Supreme Source of our lives, and when through desire and will, which is through the channel of our thoughts, we open our lives so that this Higher Power can work definitely in and through us, and then go about and do our daily work without fears or forebodings, the passing of the years sees only the highest good entering into our lives.
In the case of the other one whom we have mentioned, a repetition seems scarcely necessary. Suffice it to say that the common expression on the part of those who know her- I have heard it numbers of times- is: " What a blessing it will be to herself and to others when she has gone!"
A very general rule with but few exceptions can be laid down as follows: The body ordinarily looks as old as the mind thinks and feels.
Shakespeare anticipated by many years the best psychology of the times when he said: " It is the mind that makes the body rich."
It seems to me that our great problem, or rather our chief concern, should not be so much how to stay young in the sense of possessing all the attributes of youth, for the passing of the years does bring changes, but how to pass gracefully, and even magnificently, and with undiminished vigour from youth to middle age, and then how to carry that middle age into approaching old age, with a great deal more of the vigour and the outlook of middle life than we ordinarily do.
The mental as well as the physical helps that are now in the possession of this our generation, are capable of working a revolution in the lives of many who are or who may become sufficiently awake to them, so that with them there will not be that- shall we say- immature passing from middle life into a broken, purposeless, decrepit, and sunless, and one might almost say, soulless old age.
It seems too bad that so many among us just at the time that they have become of most use to themselves, their families, and to the world, should suddenly halt and then continue in broken health, and in so many cases lie down and die. Increasing numbers of thinking people the world over are now, as never before, finding that this is not necessary, that something is at fault, that that fault is in ourselves. If so, then reversely, the remedy lies in ourselves, in our own hands, so to speak.
In order to actualise and to live this better type of life we have got to live better from both sides, both the mental and the physical, this with all due respect to Shakespeare and to all modern mental scientists.
The body itself, what we term the physical body, whatever may be the facts regarding a finer spiritual body within it all the time giving form to and animating and directing all its movements, is of material origin, and derives its sustenance from the food we take, from the air we breathe, the water we drink. In this sense it is from the earth, and when we are through with it, it will go back to the earth.
The body, however, is not the Life; it is merely the material agency that enables the Life to manifest in a material universe for a certain, though not necessarily a given, period of time. It is the Life, or the Soul, or the Personality that uses, and that in using shapes and moulds, the body and that also determines its strength or its weakness. When this is separated from the body, the body at once becomes a cold, inert mass, commencing immediately to decompose into the constituent material elements that composed it- literally going back to the earth and the elements whence it came.