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Aging

Finding Meaning After 50 By Embracing ALL of Life!

Life is a feast to be enjoyed, especially as we age!

CC0/pixabay
Source: CC0/pixabay

We see the signs all around us. People afraid of aging: afraid of stagnation, afraid they have nothing to look forward to other than daily tasks, afraid of physical decline, afraid of being alone, afraid of not being needed by others, afraid to being a burden on others. In response, some try so hard to go backwards, to recapture their youth, while others choose to deny that any change is occurring.

"To him who is afraid, everything rustles."--Sophocles

Many people believe that meaning in life can be found by detaching themselves from life, from any challenges they might be facing. In doing so, they can potentially relieve themselves from suffering and potentially endure or even enjoy life more. However, I recommend just the opposite philosophy–we should embrace all of life, all the ups and downs, all the joys and sorrows. In celebrating the fullness of life, we will be more immersed in our lives and will, potentially, find deeper meaning.

We can all learn from the important Greek writer, poet, and philosopher, Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957). His novels are well known: Zorba The Greek (which became an Academy Award-winning movie), The Greek Passion, Captain Michalis, The Saviors of God, The Last Temptation of Christ (also made into a Hollywood movie), Freedom or Death, among others. The epitaph on his grave bears his words: “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”1 Kazantzakis taught us how to appreciate life by living life to the fullest, expressing ourselves, feeling free, and even living a little dangerously. Aristotle had said, “No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness” and Kazantzakis followed with, “A man needs a little madness, or else he never dares cut the rope and be free.”2

Through his writings, Kazantzakis shows us that we need to embrace the full catastrophe of life, that there is beauty in all the chaos of life and that “life is trouble, only death is not.”3 In "Zorba the Greek," the most famous scene occurs at the very end when the wooden structure that Zorba and his compatriot Basil had built as part of an innovative business venture collapses. Zorba laughs off the defeat, saying they will just start again and rebuild. Basil, who up until the time of this catastrophic incident had demonstrated extremely uptight and risk-averse behaviors, then turns to Zorba and surprisingly asks “Teach me to dance.” They spread their arms out, snap their fingers, and begin to dance the sirtaki, a popular Greek dance, on the now famous beach on the island of Crete. Basil was really asking Zorba to teach him how to live, how to laugh at life, and how to really feel fully alive, no matter what life brings.

To know death is to know life. Reflecting on our aging and our eventual death can teach us to live better today. Life is fragile and, in a moment, our light could flicker out and we could be gone. Tomorrow may never come. When we realize that we have limited time left, and that we are always moving toward death, we can start to live each day to the fullest. We realize that life is precious and that we should not waste whatever moments we have left. Each day is a gift and, like Zorba, we all should devote time to dance on this earth because one day, inevitably, we will be under it!

I know that I don’t want to reach the end of my life, only to realize that I didn’t really live to the fullest. I don’t want to look back on my life and realize that I worried about the same thing for ten, twenty, or even thirty years. I don’t want to take my life for granted and, most importantly, I don’t want to die with regrets--especially concerning things that I did not do because I was either afraid or a prisoner of my thoughts.

Nikos Kazantzakis wisely taught us to “…die every day. Be born every day….”4 The uncertainty of life teaches us—or at least gives us the opportunity—to reflect upon what we still want to do and say. As my relative in Greece, Diogenes, wisely advised me, “If you want to do something, you should do it now.”

Every day is a new day on your journey to be enjoyed, not simply endured. Life just doesn’t happen to you; you happen to life and you make it meaningful. As the sun sets on yet another day, you need to ask yourself if you squandered the opportunity to truly live today or, conversely, if you grabbed on to life for all that its worth! This is especially important after the age of 50 as the years add up and the finish line is in sight. At this stage, innovating your life with meaning is an opportunity that you don't want to miss!

References

1. Kazantzakis, Nikos (1973). Report to Greco. London: Faber & Faber, p. 1.

2. "Zorba the Greek" (1964): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NRFpUiGHzs

3. "Zorba the Greek" (1964): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DJQu9RQYWs

4. Kazantzakis, Nikos (1960). The Saviors of God Spiritual Exercises. New York: Simon & Schuster. See also: http://www.angel.net/~nic/askitiki.html

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