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Old Age

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OLD AGE Unmistakable old age, so long denied, comes at last to its own: not in ugly, tragic mask, but gentle; not hastening or loitering. With a touch of humor, of philosophy, with a sense of life's irony and a knowledge of its loving kindness, old age comes at the appointed time. The autumn leaves upon the branches are not more beautiful than the spirit of the old who have lived. The leaves have felt upon their faces storms and sunshine, have fulfilled their end in nature, and when the unseen spirit of a natural end of life puts its finger upon them, they yield a consummation in color, in beauty, in ac quiescence, not less striking than the response of swelling veins and bursting vernal energy in the early life of the year. So old age has its own beauty, its own appropriate medium of expression, its acquiescence in a normal order of the universe for which the seventy or the eighty years are in one sense but a long approach.

Clearly as adolescence differs from infancy, so clearly is old age differentiated from the maturity of middle life. Physiological changes take place. Habits become increasingly a reliance in preference to independent conscious judgments. The physi cal strength undoubtedly wanes, and an increased liability to degenerative diseases compels recogni tion. Vision becomes dim or reasserts its vigor.

Memory plays strange tricks. Appetite demands 14 a change of diet and passion relaxes its hold. In terests shift and contract, and though the phrases of regret at loss of active participation in life's affairs may remain upon the lips, we know that they may easily express less poignant emotions than would similar expressions in some temporary breakdown in earlier years.

These changes may not be pathological at all, like those of premature old age, but natural and welcome. To die in harness, cut off suddenly in the fullness of powers, may be a source of personal satisfaction, but it is egregious selfishness. It is a medieval, not a modern, ideal. It represents the ambition of a warrior seeking glory in action, not the sober and quiet ambition of the normal citizen of a modern state, who is willing to play the part to the end and to keep the useful work of his com munity moving forward without break of continu ity, with the social welfare as its aim. Such smooth perfection of social organization implies a period of easy relaxation at the end, as of preparation in the earlier part of life, a period with its own problems, its own burdens, its own contributions to social well-being.