The Western World's Growing Tragedy - Growing Old Before Our Time
Millions have been believing a myth that has brought on one of modern civilization's greatest tragedies.
I saw a pitiful example of this one day in Miami, Fla. A few of my traveling team decided to take a drive over on Miami Beach. We crossed over near the southern end, then drove north to and through the luxury hotel area. But driving up from the southern end we passed first through a district of economy-class retirement hotels.
This article is reprinted from the December. 1976. Plain Truth magazine. As we drove slowly by, our attention was arrested by the sight of many retired "elderly" — probably between the ages of 60 and 70 — sitting idly on front verandas passing away the time. It was the despondent, beaten look on their faces that caught our attention and filled us with dismay. Plainly, they had nothing to look forward to. There was just a tired, uninterested, hopeless stare on their faces. They were just eking out an existence until finally death would deliver them from endless monotony.
I had to wonder: WHY should people believe in a myth that cheats millions out of one of the happiest times of life? WHY should the MILLIONS believe a myth that makes them old before their time and robs them of usefulness, vigor, sparkling interest in life and real accomplishment?
I remember when I was a boy still growing up. My two grandfathers were dead, but my grandmothers, one in her late 50s, the other in her early 60s, were still living — not that my ancestors died young. I remember, between ages 3 and 5, a great-grandfather in his 90s and a great uncle, also in his 90s. My mother lived to age 95 1/2, and she had brothers and sisters who lived into their late 80s and 90s.
But my grandmothers, after about age 50 or 55, had changed their attire to dress like "old folks." It has seemed to me that it must have become custom for people to think they are "growing old." I have noticed that many young men, reaching somewhere around 25, begin to cultivate a changed personality, put on a facial expression and adopt a manner of speech of one "more MATURE." As they reach the later 40s and turn 50, they seem to feel they must talk, look and act like they suppose the "middle-aged" ought to appear. And by or before 60, they seem to feel they have now become "old." They appear to feel their usefulness is now over, and they must "retire."
This feeling is so universal that many corporations have retirement programs timed to age 60 or 65.
Somehow I never could quite understand that type of outlook on life. I have never reached "middle age," at least not consciously — not in my mind and manner of thinking and acting. After age 83, I have enjoyed joking about being"37, going on 36." I have simply been TOO BUSY to think of "growing old" or ever "retiring."
One of our employees came to me at age 55. He wanted to retire. True, he had been on our payroll for some 25 or 30 years. He had been divorced and had married a widow who had a camper. She had a small income.
"We can travel very cheaply," he said, "and I want to get to travel and see some of the United States before I have to meet my Maker." He had already "grown old" — in his mind. Well, "as he thinketh in his heart, so is he," said Solomon (Proverbs 23:7).
There is a new book just off the press, Love in the Later Years, authored by Dr. James A. Peterson and Dr. Barbara Payne, gerontologists. The book reports a wealth of research [on] the Western world's most senseless growing tragedies and quotes some astonishing statistics, unrealized, I think, by most.
For example, it is stated that some 70 years ago, the average life span was only 47 years. Few marriages lasted until all the children had grown to maturity and left home. Most marriages lasted only until middle age and usually ended by the death of one. Now, for the first time, at least in modern history, many marriages are lasting into what has been called "old age" — 60 and past.
Such facts actually seem rather shocking to me when I think of how my marriage lasted 50 years, lacking 3 1/2 months to the day, and I still thought of the "wife of my youth" as "young," though she died at age 75 1/2. To me she was still only 25. (We were both 25 when we were married.) And I have seriously needed her more, these past nine years, than while she lived — although she could never have undertaken this new and present dimension of the "great commission" that has devolved on me, for she could never have withstood the rigorous ordeal of worldwide travel I have to endure now. And I would never have left her alone at home, for I am now away about three fourths of the time.
But back to some important facts brought to light in this new book. Another trend — the experts agree — is that the divorce rate of people from 45 to 60 is rising rapidly.
And this is one factor that is contributing toward a new and growing TRAGEDY in the United States, and undoubtedly, in many other countries.
This growing TRAGEDY is the fact that 11 1/2 million people over age 55 are living ALONE — widows, widowers and the divorced — plus a comparative few who never married.
THIS IS APPROXIMATELY ONE THIRD OF THE ENTIRE U.S. POPULATION ABOVE 55!
In March, 1971, there were in the U.S. approximately 11 million married couples, or approximately 22 million people above age 55, who were married. But approximately 11.5 million people above 55 were single and ALONE. Of these, for every single man, there were FOUR single women above 55 living alone.
When God said, "It is NOT GOOD that the man should be alone," woman had not yet been created. It was for that very reason — that it was NOT good that one should be alone — that God created WOMAN. If it is not good that a man should be alone, the same applies to a woman.
The enormity of this growing tragedy becomes all the more apparent when we consider that this is a GROWING condition. Dr. Peterson's book states that in the U.S. within two decades HALF the total U.S. population will be over 50 years old.
For this very reason, he says, it is very important that the myths about "old age" be exposed and eradicated from the popular mind. These, he says, are myths that are DESTROYING the lives of people above 55.
The Peterson and Payne book gives a breakdown on the single persons left ALONE past age 55, as of March, 1971. There were approximately 8.3 million widows, 1.7 million widowers and approximately one million single women who had been divorced and a half million single men because of divorce. This totals the tragic number of 11.5 million people over 55 who are single and most living ALONE — slightly more than half as many as were married.
The book points out that every human being — male and female alike — NEEDS love and affection. And this applies to infants in their first year who need and thrive on affection and love expressed by parents. Growing children NEED not only companionship and guidance (yes, and discipline exercised with wisdom), but also love and affection from parents. No one questions the need for romance sure to be sought by or before the early and mid-20s. Companionship, with the expression of affection and love, is necessary, even as an emotional and spiritual FOOD throughout marriage — which, IDEALLY, should last throughout life, regardless of age.
The "GREAT MYTH," as I would phrase what is the great concern expressed by Dr. Peterson and Payne in Love in the Later Years, is the general supposition that romance, love, and affection are appropriate and even needed in the 20s, but by middle age or after they are ridiculous; that by middle age people are not supposed to retain energy, vigor and active-minded accomplishment. Companionship, love and affection are the very FOOD for an energetic and dynamic success built through the 20s, 30s and 40s, and perhaps even into the early 50s, but after that people are supposed to become senile, sexually indifferent, impotent, frigid and completely useless. They are supposed to retire and sink into helpless uselessness.
It is precisely because so many going through the 20s to and through the 50s think that is what they are SUPPOSED to do that they bog down and live up to the enslaving MYTH!
People seem to assume that after the 50s the human mind is supposed to decay. Perhaps some few, accepting the myth, have bogged down and grown senile. That is a tragedy. It happens only to the mind that has not been USED. A mind IMPROVES with use and age. Wisdom comes with experience and AGE.
In my personal experience — and why shouldn't I share the benefit of that experience and knowledge with my millions of readers? — I have produced my greatest accomplishments since I hit the calendar age of 80. Of course that's not my actual age — only what the calendar says. The most important KNOWLEDGE has been learned since then. I speak today with more vigor, effectiveness and power than in my 40s.
Yes, as a man THINKS in his heart, so is he.
More power to Drs. Peterson and Payne, and to other researchers, in their efforts to abolish the satanic MYTH!