How To Grow Old

In spite of the title, this article will really be on how not to grow old, which, at my time of life, is a much more important subject. My first advice would be to choose your ancestors carefully. Although both my parents died young, I have done well in this respect as regards my other ancestors. My maternal grandfather, it is true, was cut off in the flower of his youth at the age of sixty-seven, but my other three grandparents all lived to be over eighty. Of remoter ancestors I can only discover one who did not live to a great age, and he died of a disease which is now rare, namely, having his head cut off。youmeimon01-1

A great grandmother of mine, who was a friend of Gibbon, lived to the age of ninety-two, and to her last day remained a terror to all her descendants. My maternal grandmother, after having nine children who survived, one who died in infancy, and many miscarriages, as soon as she became a widow, devoted herself to woman’s higher education. She was one of the founders of Girton College, and worked hard at opening the medical profession to women. She used to relate how she met in Italy an elderly gentleman who was looking very sad. She inquired the cause of his melancholy and he said that he had just parted from his two grandchildren. “Good gracious”, she exclaimed, “I have seventy-two grandchildren, and if I were sad each time I parted from one of them, I should have a dismal existence!” “Madre snaturale,” he replied. But speaking as one of the seventy-two, I prefer her recipe. After the age of eighty she found she had some difficulty in getting to sleep, so she habitually spent the hours from midnight to 3 a.m. in reading popular science. I do not believe that she ever had time to notice that she was growing old. This, I think, is proper recipe for remaining young. If you have wide and keen interests and activities in which you can still be effective, you will have no reason to think about the merely statistical fact of the number of years you have already lived, still less of the probable brevity of you future.

As regards health I have nothing useful to say since I have little experience of illness. I eat and drink whatever I like, and sleep when I cannot keep awake. I never do anything whatever on the ground that it is good for health, though in actual fact the things I like doing are mostly wholesome.
Psychologically there are two dangers to be guarded against in old age. One of these is undue absorption in the past. It does not do to live in memories, in regrets for the good old days, or in sadness about friends who are dead. One’s thoughts must be directed to the future and to things about which there is something to be done. This is not always easy: one’s own past is gradually increasing weight. It is easy to think to oneself that one’s emotions used to be more vivid than they are, and one’s mind keener. If this is true it should be forgotten, and if it is forgotten it will probably not be true.

The other thing to be avoided is clinging to youth in the hope of sucking vigor from its vitality. When your children are grown up they want to live their own lives, and if you continue to be as interested in them as you were when they were young, you are likely to become a burden to them, unless they are unusually callous. I do not mean that one should be without interest in them, but one’s interest should be contemplative and, if possible, philanthropic, but not unduly emotional. Animals become indifferent to their young as soon as their young can look after themselves, but human beings, owing to the length of infancy, find this difficult.

I think that a successful old age is easiest for those who have strong impersonal interests involving appropriate activities. It is in this sphere that long experience is really fruitful, and it is in this sphere that the wisdom born of experience can be exercised without being oppressive. It is no use telling grown-up children not to make mistakes, both because they will not believe you, and because mistakes are an essential part of education. But if you are one of those who are incapable of impersonal interests, you may find that your life will be empty unless you concern yourself with you children and grandchildren. In that case you must realize that while you can still render them material services, such as making them an allowance or knitting them jumpers, you must not expect that they will enjoy your company.

Some old people are oppressed by the fear of death. In the young there is a justification for this feeling. Young men who have reason to fear that they will be killed in battle may justifiably feel bitter in the thought that they have been cheated of the best things that life has to offer. But in an old man who has known human joys and sorrows, and has achieved whatever work it was in him to do, the fear of death is somewhat abject and ignoble. The best way to overcome it – so at least it seems to me – is to make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river – small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being. The man who, in old age, can see his life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death, since the things he cares for will continue. And if, with the decay of vitality, weariness increases, the thought of rest will not be unwelcome. I should wish to die while still at work, knowing that others will carry on what I can no longer do and content in the thought that what was possible has been done.

by Bertrand Russell

論老之將至

雖然有這樣一個標題,這篇文章真正要談的卻是怎樣才能不老。在我這個年紀,這實在是一個至關重要的問題。我的第一個忠告是,要仔細選擇你的祖先。儘管我的雙親皆屬早逝,但是考慮到我的其他祖先,我的選擇還是很不錯的。是的,我的外祖父六十七歲時去世,正值盛年,可是另外三位祖父輩的親人都活到八十歲以上。 至於稍遠些的親戚,我只發現一位沒能長壽的,他死於一種已罕見的病症:被殺頭。我的一位曾祖母是吉本[1]的朋友,她活到九十二歲高齡,一直到死,她始終是讓子孫們全都感到敬畏的人。我的外祖母,一輩子生了十個孩子,活了九個,還有 一個早年夭折,此外還有過多次流産。可是守寡之後,她馬上就致力於婦女的高等教育事業。她是格頓學院[2]的創辦人之一,力圖使婦女進入醫療行業。她總好講起她在義大利遇到過的一位面容悲哀的老年紳士,她詢問他憂鬱的緣故,他說他剛剛失去了兩個孫子。“天哪!”她叫道:“我有七十二個孫兒孫女,如果我每失去一個就要悲傷不止,那我就沒法活了!”“奇怪的母親。”他回答說。但是, 作爲她的七十二個孫兒孫女的一員,我卻要說我更喜歡她的見地。上了八十歲,她開始感到有些難於入睡,她便經常在午夜時分至淩晨三時這段時間裏閱讀科普方面的書籍。我想她根本就沒有工夫去留意她在衰老。我認爲,這就是保持年輕的最佳方法。如果你的興趣和活動既廣泛又濃烈,而且你又能從中感到自己仍然精力旺盛,那麽你就不必去考慮你已經活了多少年這種純粹的統計學情況,更不必去考慮你那也許不很長久的未來。

至於健康,由於我這一生幾乎從未患過病,也就沒有什麽有益的忠告。我吃喝皆隨心所欲,醒不了的時候就睡覺。我做事情從不以它是否有益健康爲根據,儘管實際上我喜歡做的事情通常是有益健康的。

從心理角度講,老年需防止兩種危險。一是過分沈湎於往事。人不能生活在回憶當中,不能生活在對美好的往昔的懷念或對去世的友人的哀念之中。一個人應當把心思放在未來,放到需要自己去做點什麽的事情上,要做到這一點並非輕而易舉,往事的影響總是在不斷地增加。人們總好認爲自己過去的情感要比現在強烈得多,頭腦也比現在敏銳。假如真的如此,就該忘掉它;而如果可以忘掉它,那你自以爲是的情況就可能並不是真的。

另一件應當避免的事是依戀年輕人,期望從他們的勃勃生氣中獲取力量。子女們長大成人之後,都想按照自己的意願生活。如果你還像他們年幼時,那樣關心他們,你就會成爲他們的包袱,除非他們是異常遲鈍的人。我不是說不應該關心子女,而是說這種關心應該是含蓄的,假如可能的話,還應是寬厚的,而不應該過分地感情用事。動物的幼子一旦自立,大動物就不再關心它們了。人類則因其幼年時期較長而難於做到這一點。

我認爲,對於那些具有強烈的愛好、其活動又都恰當適宜、並且不受個人情感影響的人們,成功地度過老年絕非難事。只有在這個範圍裏,長壽才真正有益;只有在這個範圍裏,源于經驗的智慧才能不受壓制地得到運用。告誡已經成人的孩子別犯錯誤是沒有用處的,因爲一來他們不會相信你,二來錯誤原來就是教育所必不可少的要素之一。但是,如果你是那種受個人情感支配的人,你就會感到,不把心思都放在子女和孫兒女身上,你就會覺得生活很空虛。假如事實確是如此,那麽當你還能爲他們提供物質上的幫助,譬如支援他們一筆錢或者爲他們編織毛線外套的時候,你就必須明白,絕不要期望他們會因爲你的陪伴而感到快活。

有些老人因害怕死亡而苦惱。年輕人害怕死亡是可以理解的。有些年輕人擔心他們會在戰鬥中喪生。一想到會失去生活能夠給予他們的種種美好事物,他們就感到痛苦。這種擔心並不是無緣無故的,也是情有可原的。但是,對於一位經歷了人世的悲歡、履行了個人職責的老人,害怕死亡就有些可憐且可恥了。克服這種恐懼的最好辦法是——至少我是這樣看的——逐漸擴大你的興趣範圍並使其不受個人情感的影響,直至包圍自我的圍牆一點一點地離開你,而你的生活則越來越融合於大家的生活之中。每一個人的生活都應該像河水一樣——開始是細小的,被限制在狹窄的兩岸之間,然後熱烈地沖過巨石、滑下瀑布。漸漸地,河道變寬了,河岸擴展了,河水流得更平衡了。最後,河水流入了海洋,不再有明顯的間斷和停頓,而後便毫無痛苦地擺脫了自身的存在。能夠這樣理解自己的一生的老人,將不會因害怕死亡而痛苦,因爲他所珍愛的一切都將繼續存在下去。而且,如果隨著精力的衰退,疲倦之感日漸增加,長眠並非是不受歡迎的念頭。我渴望死于尚能勞作之時,同時知道他人將繼續我所未竟的事業,我大可因爲已經盡了自己之所能而感到安慰。


[1] 〔吉本(1737—1794)〕,英國歷史學家,著有 《羅馬帝國衰亡史》等著作。

[2] 〔格頓學院〕康橋大學的第一所女子學院,建於1869 年。

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