I think it must have been Hollywood that began the cult of youth in this country — a cult that has now spread to most industrialized nations. There is something about the medium of film that makes youth more attractive than it really is, and age much less attractive than it really is.
Much less attractive!
I’m pretty sure it works like this: Most of what makes age attractive is internal. That is, the attractiveness lies chiefly in internal things such as intellectual, emotional, and spiritual maturity. But film has a much harder time capturing those things than it does the attractiveness of youth, which lies chiefly (but not exclusively) in the beauty of youth — an external thing.
Whatever the origin and nature of the cult of youth, it certainly has resulted in vast numbers of us these days seeing little or no value in age. I hear teenagers and young adults not only say they “don’t want to get older”, but also speculate that “old folks seem stuck in their ways, so uptight they never have fun, and silly about their rules and values.”
I find such views downright ironic. There is much that can be said for youth — it is a time when our curiosity is still alive, when we still feel we have whole new worlds to explore, when we quite easily love passionately, having never suffered wounds to love.
But youth is also a time of vast confusion, of shallow and incomplete understandings, of alienation from our true selves, and of nearly constant fears and anxieties that we have not yet developed the coping skills for, and so must resort to distractions such as entertainments to deal with them.
Now it strikes me as a curious fact about life that, if you fail to live it more fully after the age of 40 than you lived it before the age of 40, you will miss out on — not half — but more than half of your life!
But why is that?
It is true that we tend to feel more alive before 40 than afterwards, but it is also true that we begin to flourish — genuinely flourish — after 40 and beyond. We become better at things. At our jobs, at our family life, at our religion, at our hobbies, at understanding how things work, even — if we make an effort — at reasoning itself.
Even our values can change — at least around the edges despite that our core values seem to resist much change. For instance, we might appreciate a clean home more, or value a good back and forth conversation more.
Because we have become much more competent, there is so much more we can get out of simply living. Consequently, if we are not seizing the opportunity to embrace life after 40, we are most likely going to miss out on — not merely half of our life — but I’d guess as much as two-thirds of it.