It would seem that people adopt one of two attitudes as they get older. And by older I mean the last quarter of their lives. Some people, having seen that life offers nothing that is satisfying, lose their ambitions and sail gently into the sunset. Others, who have essentially learned nothing, still believe there are experiences that will fill their empty souls. They manifest the victory of hope over experience.
Our consumer society is eager to take the hard earned cash from those hopefuls who believe that their empty, vacuous lives, can be transformed into a pleasure feeding frenzy in their last years. Retire in the sun and spend endless days in the pool, playing golf, drinking wine, socializing with other lost souls, and spend each day with a satisfied smile at the end of it. Of course this is about as far from the truth as we might wish to venture. Old age is very often synonymous with poor health and dwindling financial resources. It is not uncommon for the aging to find their meager pension and savings eaten up with medical bills. And even if this is not the case, the lack of directed, active effort results in boredom, the solution to which is to hit the bottle. Just because a person does not have to work and can spend their time as they wish, does not mean that life suddenly becomes a pleasure park. As such people age, so the sense of being cheated grows, and with it their desperate attempts to find the experience that would make their lives worthwhile. There is nothing more pathetic than a person clinging on to life, desperately searching for the missing ingredient in their meaningless lives.
Much rarer is the the person who has seen most of what life has to offer, and knows it is all shit. Such a person is neither desperate to hang on to life, or to seek out new experiences. If life hasn’t served up the goods by the time a person in sixty or so, it is unlikely to do so in the future. These people are easily identified by a more relaxed attitude, and an unwillingness to buy into the retirement dreams sold by snake-oil salesmen. Oddly enough people of this type are much more likely to be happy, since they have very few expectations that can be dashed to the ground. They know the next cruise will be as shitty as the previous ones, that the new restaurant everyone is talking about will serve pig-swill, that the luxury retirement village will be full of hungry ghosts, and that their ambitions are not worth following. People of this nature live one day at a time, since life is undeserving of attention that reaches out into the future.
The drive to survive will keep a person on the treadmill all their life if they let it. Fear of annihilation sees the vast majority of people living as though they live forever, in the belief that tomorrow can serve up the goods. In reality, the last quarter of our life is a time to prepare for death – to come to terms with the futility of it all. And as Lao Tsu says in the Tao te Ching, there is nothing more tragic than the person who approaches death with eyes closed.