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Title: How to Face Life
Author: Wise, Stephen S. (Stephen Samuel)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                            How to Face Life


                         THE ART OF LIFE SERIES
                      Edward Howard Griggs, Editor


                            How to Face Life


                            STEPHEN S. WISE
                 Rabbi of the Free Synagogue, New York

                     [Illustration: B. W. H. logo]

                                NEW YORK
                             B. W. HUEBSCH


                          COPYRIGHT, 1917, BY
                             B. W. HUEBSCH



                              MY LOUTINJIM



                               I   YOUTH

                           PREPARING FOR LIFE

                                 PAGE 9

                             II   MATURITY

                        HOW TO SERVE AND ACHIEVE

                                PAGE 48

                               III   AGE

                          HOW NOT TO GROW OLD

                                PAGE 62



                       YOUTH: PREPARING FOR LIFE

  “How beautiful is youth! How bright it gleams.
  With its illusions, aspirations, dreams!
  Book of Beginnings, Story without End,
  Each maid a heroine, and each man a friend!
  Aladdin’s Lamp, and Fortunatus’ Purse!
  That holds the treasures of the universe!
  All possibilities are in its hands,
  No danger daunts it and no foe withstands;
  In its sublime audacity of faith,
  ‘Be thou removed,’ it to the mountain saith,
  And with ambitious feet, secure and proud,
  Ascends the ladder leaning on the cloud.”

    —LONGFELLOW: _Morituri Salutamus_.

How to face life, how to prepare for life, are questions that must be
answered by those who believe, as Lecky put it, that the “map of life”
must be marked out, that in the words of Emerson there is such a thing
as the “conduct of life” which man is free to determine.

We are assured incessantly in these days that we must enter upon a great
programme of preparedness for war,—back of which urging lies the
assumption that a maximum of preparedness must be arranged in order to
secure our land against the menace of aggression or invasion. If a
programme of preparedness, which in the last analysis involves
destruction and desolation, be impossible without the fullest planning,
how much less possible is it to shape a constructive life-upbuilding
programme without most careful and adequate preparedness.

Into the mind of youth must penetrate the ideal of
self-preparedness,—not of external preparation for the outward life, but
of inmost preparedness for the inner life. Whether or not the
preparedness programme be, as some hold, more menacing to the soul of
America than foreign foe can ever become because it marks an immediate
invasion of the American soul rather than a possible aggression upon
American soil, it is certain that life cannot worthily be lived save
after preparedness in the fullest sense of the term.

It is, in truth, easy to stir up excitement and even deeper feeling over
a purely external problem such as is that of war-preparedness, preparing
to do something to another whether an individual or a nation or a
continent. The easiest way is the way of external preparedness, the
militaristic way, for it involves a minimum of reasoning. But
preparation for life which I ask of youth involves the largest measure
of reasoning and planning and purposing. It is the hardest way rather
than the easiest way, though the pursuit thereof makes ultimately for
the way that is inevitably rightful and unerring.

Is it needful to urge upon young people that they shall face life with
the determination to sketch for themselves a map of life as they see it,
as they purpose, if so be they purpose, to make it? What would be said
of a military commander who entered upon a land to him unknown without
securing in advance the fullest possible data, without gaining, as far
as it was possible so to do, an understanding of the outlines of the
country he proposed to enter?

Curiously enough, it is often imagined that preparation for life is
largely a matter of the higher education and exclusively associated with
college and university life. This imagining may be due to the
circumstance that men and women step out of so-called preparatory
schools into higher institutions of learning. One sometimes wonders, in
very truth, whether, instead of college preparing men for life, it were
not more fitting to hold that after the college or university experience
men need to be repaired if they are rightly to live and toil and serve.

My counsel is not for men alone but for men and women, for youth and
maidens alike. Let no man venture to offer two kinds of counsel, one to
men and yet another to women. There is only one manner of preparedness
for life, for life is life and it is not one thing for a man and yet
another for a woman.

Though I have used the term “map of life,” map is hardly a happy
analogy. For maps presuppose that a land is become known and familiar.
And life cannot be foreknown and charted, if life it is to be, as every
life ought to be, a great adventure into the unknown rather than the
acceptance of a programme, a hazard of the spirit rather than a body of
prescriptions and ordinances. We are to fare forth upon the seas of
life,—without chart. But some of us attempt to sail the sea rudderless,
helmless, starless. Men and women embark upon life without ever having
given thought to the storms that beset, to the rocks that threaten, to
the unknown perils that may lie before. And then it is wondered why many
fail to make port, why the ships of life frequently founder upon the
high seas. The wonder ought rather to be that so many enter triumphantly
into the harbors of eternity, seeing how rarely men map out life in
advance, seeing how grudging is the time spent upon preparation, seeing
how seldom men diligently and consciously prepare to meet those
difficulties and burdens and problems which adequate preparedness for
life alone can fit the soul to face.

Let not life be mapped out so definitely for you, so accurately and
systematically that no room will be left for the play of your own will
and the determinations of your own spirit. I would almost rather have
every map of life flung away than have life so mapped out as to leave
youth no freedom of choice, as to fail to spur men on to face the great
adventure, to be capable of daring to front whatsoever life may offer.
Not very long ago, I inquired of friends, whose little lad is a pupil of
one of the so-called best schools in the land, when they had applied for
his admittance, and they answered, “Before he was born.” It occurred to
me to inquire what dire thing would have happened in the event of the
lad having proved upon birth to be a little lass, but the comforting
assurance was at once given me that such contingency, not to say
calamity, had been guarded against, in a sense, through applying for
admittance to a girls’ school in the event of the lad being born a lass.
It seemed to me then as it does now an admirable thing to make such
comprehensive provision for a child’s education as to gain for it in
advance of birth admittance into two schools, irrespective of sex.

But, without resting too heavily upon this illustration, is it not
possible to prepare another for life so definitely as to deny to youth
the privilege of willing, choosing, venturing, daring—even losing? It
were almost better that a youth go without the problematic advantages of
school discipline than have his school and college and university career
chosen and marked out for him rigidly and inflexibly. What greater wrong
can I do my child than to withhold from him the freedom of choice, than
so to cabin and confine his spirit that he must needs beat his wings in
the intense inane without knowing the atmosphere that magnifies freedom
and liberates the soul? Guide if you will the life of youth, but beware
of the danger of maiming and crippling life through so definitely and
completely mapping it out as to deny the soul of youth the peril of
adventure, the joy of combat, the glory of hopeless daring.

Life must mean pioneering, not making one’s way, but breaking a way,
clearing a path of life for one’s self. It is the glory of life,—and
there is no glory like unto it,—to face the task of moral and
intellectual pioneering. There is danger lest in our time there pass out
of the life of men one of the most precious of things, that pioneering
spirit that comes to the man who after he has fared forth, braved every
danger, stood every peril at bay, declares in the word of the poet:

                     “Anybody might have heard it
                     But God’s whisper came to me.”

The whisper of God comes to every man or to every man it may come. The
opportunity for the performance of the task of moral or spiritual
pioneering is denied to no man. Americas of the spirit remain to be
discovered within the life of every one of us. What man or woman who may
read this will affirm that there has never come into his life a
revelation the gleam of which enables him to see that he is free to
reach a great decision, that his spirit may dare a great refusal, that
his soul may utter a great affirmation? The great moment of life is that
in which a man is revealed unto himself, in which his soul is laid bare,
in which it comes to him with the force of a revelation,—mine is the
power to will and to determine the content of my life, though if I am to
will I must dare to be myself, I must reach the decision, I must will, I
must be free.

And the freedom of youth means freedom to be one’s self, to be a law
unto one’s self, not to be one’s self in lawlessness. Choose ye this day
whom ye will serve,—remembering that the responsibility of decision
rests with you and that, in the despite of all the lives that have been
lived and all the maps that have been drawn and all the plans that have
been sketched and all the precedents that have been set, you must live
your own life, and, if it be not your own life, it is not life at all.
Cherish the counsels of loved ones but remember that neither mother nor
father, uncle nor cousin nor any kinsman or kinswoman whosoever can
choose whom you are to serve. You cannot serve God unless yours be the

Young men and women require to be warned against a thousand and one
influences ever lurking near at hand to deter youth from the hazard of
the spirit’s pioneering. Despise the counsels of the over-wise and
over-mature, the sum of whose low wisdom is that a man can make no
graver mistake in life than to wander from the paths which all men else
have pursued. The fear of seeming unusual obsesses the soul of too many
of us. Not a few men and women would rather be wrong than seem
different. Difference, variance, distinctiveness are not ends in
themselves, but may become and ofttimes are the means that must be used
by him who is not fearful of moral distinction.

Outward differentiation is nothing, but inward distinction is
everything,—is the counsel I ever urge upon my fellow-Jews. We are not
to seem different for the sake of seeming, but we are to dare to seem to
be different in order to be distinguished, in order to achieve spiritual
outstandingness. When nice and refined and timid people say to you,
“Remember to be like everybody else, don’t attempt anything new, don’t
run the risk of seeming peculiar, don’t dream of venturing upon novel
courses whether in things great or small,” remember that there is a
possible invasion of the soul’s integrity that no man need endure. To
the counsels of the timorous fling back the command to the brave:
“Always do what you are afraid to do.”

When men seek to affright you by their counsels of prudence, remind them
of the rule of one of the knightliest of Americans, the founder of
Hampton Institute, who laid upon one youth’s soul the burden: “doing
what can’t be done is the glory of living.” And when men seek to degrade
you to the level of their own base timidity, bid them to remember the
courage and nobleness that were in the act of Higginson in leading a
negro regiment touching which he said: “We all fought, for instance,
with ropes around our necks, the Confederate authorities having denied
to officers of colored regiments the usual privileges if taken prisoners
and having required them to be treated as felons.”

Pioneering, moreover, presupposes unrest, discontent, just as it should.
I am not fearful for the youth whose soul is in a state of unrest, the
youth who has soaring ideals and knows not whether life is even worth
living. If that be his problem it is enough for him to know,
paraphrasing the word of the Jewish fathers, that whether or not life is
worth living we must live as if it were and we must make life fuller of
worth. Are you dissatisfied, are you discontented, so much the better
for you. Hearing from the mother of James Russell Lowell of his general
discontent with the conditions of society, Emerson wrote to her, “I hope
he will never get over it.” Better the nobly discontented than the
ignobly content. Did not John Stuart Mill say that pigs are always
satisfied and men are always dissatisfied. But let your discontent and
dissatisfaction be not with the world but with yourself, knowing that if
it be noble it shall lift you up.

Grave consequences attend the too definite mapping out of life’s
programme. Men’s passion for and faith in the profession of soldiering
rest upon youth’s yearning for adventure. And if, perchance, to-day
great multitudes of men are yearning to take up arms, it is not because
they would destroy an enemy, but because they would obliterate the
emptiness of their own lives, because they are in revolt against the
absence in normal life to-day of the pioneering opportunity. It is this
lack of stimulus or impulse in the direction of pioneering which makes
for poor, mean, low substitutes in the realm of adventure. The low gang
takes the place of high comradeship, the debasing fling becomes a
substitute for ennobling adventure. The passion for glamour and glare,
as disclosed in the craze for the motion picture, is only another
expression of the thwarted sense of adventure which the soul of youth
dare not be denied.

Seeing that the gang spirit is nothing more than a crude, imperfect, at
worst sinful, expression of youth’s passion for togetherness, what needs
to be done is to offer youth an opportunity for the expression of the
deep yearning for fraternalism. Do young men imagine that they must have
their fling? Is it not because life as lived is often so flat and stale
and unprofitable that the fling of the body is substituted for the
adventure of the spirit, that, failing to grasp hold of the eternal
realities and verities, men set out to magnify the passing and
perishable? When everything big is shut out of life it is not to be
wondered at that life becomes full of meanness and littleness and

Give yourself to something great, enroll under the banner of a high
cause, choose as your own some standard of self-sacrifice, attach
yourself to a movement that makes not for your own gain but for the
welfare of men, and you will have come upon a richly satisfying as well
as engrossing adventure. Either your spirit will greatly and bravely,
nobly and self-forgettingly adventure, or you will be in danger of
yielding to the dominance of your appetites, you will be in peril of
being overcome by your masterful passions. Dare to give every power of
your life to the furtherance of a mighty cause. Let your spirit come
under the dominance of a high and exalting enthusiasm. So will you gain
the mastery over yourself, not as a matter of prudence, not as a matter
of caution, not as a matter of timidity, not as a matter of duty.

Let something so high and noble come into your life that it shall be
expulsive of everything low and mean. The men one honors most, the men
one has reason to cherish most highly, are those into whose lives
something so lofty and commanding has come as to have left no room for
the mean and petty. Having given themselves to the furtherance of a high
and exalted ideal, life leaves no place for the mean. The selfish and
the unworthy retreats with the precipitancy of the coward before the
imperiousness of the noble impulse, the divine aim. And to their honor
be it said, young men and women will rise to the highest level when it
invites or challenges. There is in the heart of youth a limitless
capacity for ardent devotion to causes of nobleness if but it be evoked
and guided. And youth, too, understands how noble the venturesome deed
may be even when utterly futile, how sublime in essence even when broken
and foredoomed.

But men cannot finely pioneer nor nobly adventure until after they have
learned certain lessons in life. Men must learn to be self-reveringly
independent, which implies not the aloofness of solitude but the
aloneness when necessary of moral and spiritual self-reliance. Man must
learn to live his own life. There is no greater danger in our time than
that a man shall submit to the tyranny of the crowd. A man need not be
remote from nor yet alien to the world and yet he may live his own life
and live within himself. We suffer ourselves to come under the
domination of mob-feeling and mob-thinking, such as it is, because we
have not learned the art of shutting ourselves away at times from the
world. We seem never to dare to be alone because, though we know it not,
we would fain avoid facing life’s problems. We must understand, too,
that, if the problems of our own life are to be met and solved, these
things cannot be done vicariously. Not parents nor teachers nor
ministers can solve those pressing problems of our inner life with which
a man can cope effectively only amid the solitude of his inmost life.
Until you have learned the art of separating yourself for some time in
every day from the multitude, you will not learn how to think out and
think through life’s problems. You will not even know that there are
problems to be resolved.

But while life is to be lived in the spirit of self-reverence and
self-reliance, life’s great questions cannot be faced aright unless they
be faced selflessly. Life is not to be egocentric but heterocentric. The
question that a man must put is not what is he going to get out of life,
how can he get the most out of life, but how can he put the most and the
best into life. Life is not to be interpreted in terms of self, of
individual gain, of personal advantage. If it be possible to
differentiate between two classes in the world, these classes are
respectively made up of the men who read life in the language of
privilege and advantage and the men who interpret life in the terms of
duty and obligation and responsibility. The selfless are the only beings
who know how to live, who have learned and mastered the art of life. It
is always possible to draw the distinction between the man who lives for
himself, for what he can get out of life, for the enhancement of his own
fame, for the enlargement of his own power, and the man who puts himself
second, who lives for the good of others, who lives for the good, who is
capable of denying self. The noblest of men and women are they who
prescribe life to self in terms of duty to the world.

I venture to say to youth this day that there are two great needs in the
life of youth, if life is to be truly and finely faced. Have an ideal,
something to live by, and live for that ideal, wholly, steadfastly,
unwaveringly. Many men are willing to cherish an ideal, to behold a
vision, to catch a gleam, but they do not seem to understand that ideals
are not to be had cheaply, that a vision is not to be gained for the
asking. One comes upon men and women in every walk of life entirely
ready to pursue an ideal, but the pursuit must impose no difficulty,
must involve no sacrifice. These are the idealists who falter not until
sacrifice be demanded of them, and then their ideal is suffered to pass
as if the ideal were nothing more than a fair-weather friend rather than
a refuge in time of trouble, a bulwark during hours of trial and amid
the storms of temptation.

Nor are ideals reserved for the great and outstanding in life. Every one
of us has a goal, and you are what your goal is. Your life will
ultimately define itself in the terms of your ideal. Let your ideal be
high and it will exalt you. Suffer your ideal to be low and it will be
sure to debase you. You are your goal: your ideal is you. Life often
breaks down here, in one of these two critical places, in the matter of
willing highly and of having holily. Some men have neither vision of
goal nor choice of way. Some men have the vision but stumble on the
way,—the men who think the goal more important than the way, forgetting
that the way is the goal. And so many falter and fumble, forgetting that
life’s most important choice is as truly of a path as of the goal, that
the way that leads thither is of the essence of the dream and the
triumph. What thou wouldst have highly thou must have holily. We will to
have high things, but we are not prepared to achieve them holily, as if
the manner of the quest were less holy than the matter of the goal.

Who does not know of men in business who aim to secure a competence and
are resolved to put by the ways that are sharp and mean, after a fortune
has been secured? Men vainly imagine that after they have amassed much
they will neutralize the evil they have done by doing much good, but in
the meantime they have done evil to themselves and are no longer free to
live by the ideal. Giving themselves unholily to the quest of the high,
they have become transformed and debased into something mean and
strange. One knows of men in the ministry to whom is given the
putatively wise counsel to be discreetly cautious and evasively silent
until the time comes for the occupancy of a great pulpit, when, as it is
basely said, a man can afford to speak out of his soul. But when the
great pulpit prize is won, the gleam, alas, is gone, the vision lies
shattered. The man has been corrupted and his soul corroded and he who
was willing for a time to be silent in the hope that some day, through
the methods of silence, he might achieve the right of speaking out more
bravely, has in the meantime become a dumb dog who has lost the power as
well as the will to utter himself in fashion brave and unafraid.

Seemingly good men, outwardly decent men enter into political life and
imagine that they must for a time strike hands with corruption until the
hour will come when they shall be able to smite corruption with their
own fists. They palter and they falter, whispering sorrowfully, “Truly
it is regrettable, but one must do these things.” One distinguished
statesman in American life declared to a friend many years ago that
there are times when a man must eat a peck of dirt in order to gain high
office. He gained the office, he ate his peck, and the tragedy is that
it is not only become the steady article of his diet, but he loves it
and he would not live without it, that it is become of the very essence
of his being.

In other words, a man cannot wallow through the mire to the skies. No
man can have two standards, one to be followed until he be forty or
fifty, and then suddenly put away. No man can divest himself of the
lower ideal which he has adopted as a temporary expedient, because in
the meantime it has come to have the mastery over his soul. Putting
aside the great choice, the hour comes when a man finds himself
incapable of the great refusal and the standard to which he gave his
temporary adherence, to be abandoned in the years of opulence and
safety, becomes his despotic and inescapable master. It is no more
possible to have two standards in the world of the spirit than it is
possible to prescribe two different moral standards for men and women.
Unity must be sought and achieved at the outset, not a lowered standard
in the beginning and a higher standard in the end. The habit of the soul
cannot be altered at will. Once to every man and not a thousand times
comes the moment to decide, and the earlier decision will in part, if
not in whole, be determinative of every later choice.

And if, young men and women, there were nothing else for which to
prepare, there is the future, there is the holy calling of parenthood to
be pursued by most of you. Have I not the right to appeal to young men
and women to-day to remember how much or how little they can make of
their own lives, and may we not base such appeal upon the truth that
they are to be the makers and the molders of the morrow; that unless
their lips and lives proclaim the voice of God in the soul of man, there
will follow a little-souled and mean-hearted generation instead of a
race of great-hearted and noble-souled men and women.

A beautiful passage in an allegory recently presented upon the stage
tells of the song of unborn souls, which are dreaming of the parenthood
to be their lot upon earth and looking forward with heavenly joy to the
supreme felicity and benediction of parenthood. The most important duty
of youth is to prepare with consciousness and consecration for life’s
highest duty,—the duty of parenthood. Shall that future be polluted,
shall that heritage be befouled? In reminding young men and women as I
do that they are the trustees of the morrow, that they hold in their
keeping the destiny of all the future, I am tempted to ask a question.
What if I were to bring a little child before you, some beautiful child
of a year or two, and what if some man sitting in this company were to
come hither and for some unknown reason strike that child: would it not
be with difficulty that we could restrain ourselves from doing violence
to such a creature? What of the men and women committing a crime
infinitely more hurtful, who would not strike a little child, but who,
none the less, are ready to doom unborn generations to a heritage of
evil, of hurt, of shame? What young man or woman will not think upon

A further word should be spoken to young women who in every generation
are standard-bearers, and not only standard-bearers but
standard-lifters. I know it to be true that ofttimes women conform to
the lower standards which men impose upon them. Yet is it true that
women may be the makers of standards if they will, and that, if they
consent to the lowering of the standards, men will readily and, alas,
eagerly lapse to the lower levels. Will not young women understand that,
if they suffer standards to be lowered, if they for any reason yield to
the temptation to be their poorer, unworthier selves in the sight of
men, then will they corrupt men, then will they in very truth have
broken faith with the moral order which has vested womanhood with the
supreme privilege of exalting standards and by the exalting of standards
exalting men.

I have said nothing up to this time about the place of God in the life
of youth. I never feel it my duty to urge you to believe in God as if
faith in God, as if trust in God, as if the acceptance of God were a
task to be superimposed rather than a privilege to be coveted. To young
men and women I would say that the one thing in the world they may not
omit to do is to leave room for God in their lives. But you cannot leave
room for God if your life be choked and clogged with things, and things,
and things. Leave a place in your life for the spirit of God and God
will find his way into your life and lead you to the making of a life

Reviewing what has gone before, the great thing in life is to map it out
in youth. Not that one is to refrain from venturing upon the uncharted
sea but that, howsoever daringly one is ready to fare forth upon the
seas, one may not forget the guidance of the stars. It is a great thing
to venture upon the imperiling seas of life without the assurance of
safety and reward for one’s plans and toils. It is a greater thing so to
fare forth as to come inevitably under the direction of the fixed stars
in the heavens of the spirit divine.

Upon a stained window in the dwelling of a noble friend I came upon some
lines which I commend to the soul of youth everywhere:

                          “Climb high
                          Climb far
                          Your goal the sky
                          Your aim the star.”



Maturity, or the middle period of life, is in a sense the largest part
of life, and is not to be viewed merely as the period after youth and
before old age. It is relative only as all time is relative, but it is
absolute, too. In truth, it is the time of that self-dependence which
comes with the consciousness of power in maturity. It is the very body
and substance of life and least relative,—for youth is its foreshadowing
and old age the shadow which it casts behind. Middle age is not a link
between youth and old age, but that period of life to which youth is an
approach,—from which old age is an exit. Comparing life to a bridge,
youth and old age might be likened to the piers which must be builded,
but the linking together of the piers, the stretching of the cables over
which the larger part of life’s pilgrimage must be made is the task of
life’s middle period.

Life is so constituted that it were almost within the limits of
reasonableness to urge that life need not pass out of the middle stage
into old age. Loath though one be to enter upon maturity, it need never
be left behind in return for age if it be entered upon in the spirit of
preparedness. Middle age is hard and bitter if youth have been misspent,
if youth have not been the stage of conscious preparation for life.

Certain rules have been laid down for the governance of youth and the
question may be asked whether these are pertinent to the needs and tasks
of middle age,—namely the law that one must have an ideal by which to
live, and that one must not merely live by it but up to it. As for the
rules which are to be binding upon the middle period of life, who shall
venture to prescribe them, save that certain things are obviously
true,—that middle age shall continue that which youth initiates, and
that there shall be no sharp frontier dividing youth from that which
comes after. For middle age is not so much a part of life as it is life,
and life absolute.

Middle age is but a part of the same life-long journey which in its
early stages is youth, which culminates in age. And yet in a sense a
different type of rules and ordinances is applicable to every one of the
three great periods of life. For life is not a journey, even and
unvarying, over a wide plain. Life may best be likened to the ascent of
a mountain and in turn the descent from its summit, and the laws that
govern life must be variously modified in order to meet the needs of the
different periods along the journey.

In the early stages, during the hours of the ascent, the imperative
thing is that a man shall not over-tax his strength, that he shall not
overstrain his powers in the initial stages of the journey, that he
shall not attempt too much, that he shall not travel at too wearying a
pace. As man nears the summit of the mountain, it becomes needful for
him to conform to other rules. He must not lose the stride, he must know
how to go on, he must climb and climb without succumbing to the heat of
the day. Once the descent is begun, yet other rules apply, if one is
with safety to reach the end of the long journey. The glory of the
morning no longer upbears him, the splendor of the noonday sun no longer
maintains his strength. But as he leaves youth’s vigor and the power of
maturity behind him, the glow of the passing day may irradiate his
vision and reveal to him the distant horizon.

Middle age seems too often a painful reluctance to leave youth behind
and to be a more painful hesitancy in the matter of facing the oncoming
of age. Unhappily for itself, middle age oft combines the childishness
of immaturity with the senescence of post-maturity so that it lacks
alike the charm of youth and the grace of age. Old age that is not
worthy of reverence is contemptible. Not less worthy of contempt is
middle age, if it have brought from youth nothing save youth’s foibles
and frailties. We not unseldom see—and it is always a pitiful
spectacle,—men and women whose bark of life is unballasted by the poise
that comes with strength and unsteadied by the serenity which ought to
be the mark of the maturer period. While men speak of the dignity of old
age, it is in truth the middle age which is in need of dignity, which
alas it too often lacks.

Men frequently refer to the emptiness and the barrenness of old age,
when it is oftenest middle age that is empty and meaningless, for it is
the time when life’s emptiness is disclosed. It is in middle age that
men are made to face the bitter truth that theirs is not to achieve and
to serve because they have not set up any standards worthy of the name,
because their goal, such as it is, is too immediately accessible, and
they cannot serve because self, having been their very deity, has not
suffered them to will to serve or to learn how to serve.

The temptation of middle age is to yield to the spirit of
disenchantment, though verily that is oft-times called disenchantment
which means nothing more than the absence of enchantments. The
temptation of middle age is not so much to give up ideals as to realize
that one is without them. Then men mistake their poor plans and
plottings, their puny purposes for ideals and wonder why they have lost
that which in truth they never had. Men rarely lose ideals. Poor,
imperfect substitutes for ideals are found out and find out their
owners,—if so they may be named. Men are not to fear losing ideals in
middle age. They are to fear not having them in youth so that they
cannot hold them throughout life.

Middle age depends upon youth, and its disillusionments are due chiefly
to the absence of illusions in the time of youth. In middle and in old
age men suddenly discover that they cannot reap what in youth they have
failed to sow. That middle age finds the ideals of youth unsatisfying
and even unengrossing, indicts only youth and not itself, shows that the
map of life, if drawn at all and as drawn in youth, was not ample and
generous enough to have proved sufficing for a lifetime.

Assuming that middle age is less joyous than youth, it enjoys one
supreme satisfaction, or rather reaps one supreme compensation, that of
the consciousness of two powers, two of life’s sovereign powers, the
power to achieve and the power to serve. If youth initiates, middle age
most achieves and best serves,—most achieves because it is a time of
fullness of intellectual strength and firmness of moral will; best
serves because the stains of self have been or ought to have been burnt
out and there is left the capacity of selfless enlistment under banners
unrelated to personal gain or private advantage. The middle age that men
find bare and unsatisfying is in truth that to them who have not
mastered the two arts of life, achieving and serving.

Certain mistakes are not uncommon in respect of the interpretation of
middle age, for example, that it is not the period of high initiative.
Because things are not initiated with dash and flare, it is assumed that
middle age undertakes nothing. On the contrary, it is then and perhaps
only then that things are begun and achieved for their own sake, that
things are really undertaken in the consciousness of strength and with a
capacity for achievement. Moreover, while little can be carried into and
beyond middle age that is not initiated in youth, the soul of man has
not in the middle period forfeited or abandoned the power of
self-correction and self-redemption. It may not be easy, neither is it

Perhaps the supreme rule for middle age may be phrased in the fewest of
words,—_don’t stop growing_! Physical and intellectual maturity are not
interchangeable terms. The truth is that men almost consciously cease to
grow, and even will not to grow at thirty-five and forty and forty-five
and then proceed to wonder why life is so unsatisfying. Let men but
remember that there is no such thing as maturity in life,—if maturity
mean the cessation of growth,—for maturity were followed by
post-maturity, which is over-ripeness.

Men need never cease to grow and mature. Men will either grow up or go
down. The great and satisfying lives are those of men and women who grow
on and go on until they are cut down. When Freeman died, he asked that
on his gravestone be carved the words, “He died learning.” He who grows
and learns dies not. Continue, as long as thou wouldst grow, to learn
and reason and purpose, nor yet imagine that life is done when youth is
ended. Nor let the middle-aged forget that going on is not the only
possibility. Even in middle age a man may reserve for himself freedom,
freedom of choice, freedom to revise life’s foundations, freedom to
begin anew if so be error have been made.

Above all, middle age must not lose its admirations, its reverences, its
enthusiasms. The edge of enthusiasm may be dulled with the passing of
the years,—but the body and substance of one’s admirations need not be
diminished, and by our admirations we live. Anatole France, speaking of
the old campaigners of the Reserve, uses this finely stimulating word
with regard to them,—“they unite the elasticity of youth with the
staunchness of maturity.” There is another and an older way of
describing the characteristic quality of middle age, which must combine
“the wisdom of age and the heart of youth.”


                        AGE: HOW NOT TO GROW OLD

  “But why, you ask me, should this tale be told
  To men grown old, or who are growing old?
  It is too late! Ah, nothing is too late
  Till the tired heart shall cease to palpitate.

         *       *       *       *       *

  What, then? Shall we sit idly down and say
  The night hath come; it is no longer day?
  The night hath not yet come; we are not quite
  Cut off from labor by the failing light;
  Something remains for us to do or dare;
  Even the oldest tree some fruit may bear.

         *       *       *       *       *

  For age is opportunity no less
  Than youth itself, though in another dress,
  And as the evening twilight fades away
  The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.”

    —LONGFELLOW: _Morituri Salutamus_.

Old age depends largely upon the attitude of men toward the whole of
life. Old age is not a joke nor a bore nor a trial nor a calamity,
though it may be any one of these as all of life may be. But what needs
to be stressed is that old age has no content in itself apart from the
whole of life. Old age may be as nothing else a foretaste of the kingdom
of heaven where faith and hope may meet and love crown all. But little
can come to old age that was not in and throughout life. Alas for the
old age of the self-centered and self-serving! If life have built walls
that shut out, these cannot be razed by age, which will forever have
made itself captive.

The crown of old age is a term that trips lightly from our tongues. Are
we not in danger of forgetting that there must be something to crown?
For in old age inheres no magic to redeem and transfigures all that has
gone before. Old age purges the precious metal of life’s substance of
its debasing dross, but the precious substance must be there to be
purged. Age, like happiness, is neither to be sought nor evaded. It is a
by-product of life rather than life’s end. Not the aim nor goal of life,
but the way of life must it be.

In the matter of reverencing old age, we rest historically upon the
firmest Jewish foundation. For the Jew as no other man before or after
him taught the world how to magnify childhood and to glorify old age,—to
rise up before the hoary head and honor the face of the old man. And
this revering solicitude for the aged is still one of the marks of
Jewish life. Jewish teaching has urged and Jewish practice has confirmed
the truth that blessing rests upon that home in which the aged have
found shelter.

Indeed, one is almost disposed to hold that there is a possibility of
overdoing reverence for old age as old age, of becoming indiscriminating
in the honor which one metes out to the hoary head. If the people of
Israel have erred in any part with respect to old age, they have revered
the aged head too much irrespective of the head and the man. I would not
if I could break with that fine tradition, but, sometimes, it were well
to ask whether old age is to be respected as a virtue in itself, whether
length of days should be regarded as a merit apart from what has gone
before. Old age is judged compassionately on the principle that nothing
but the good should be spoken touching the dead or the nearly dead.

One is sometimes moved to believe that if the aged are unhappy it is
because age brings with it not only opportunity for quiet meditation and
serene retrospect, but the necessity of thinking about the great issues
of life. And many of us have never learned how to think. We have put off
the evil day of taking thought upon life so that, when it at last comes,
its imminence appalls. Men and women put off their questions and their
problems to the end of life and when the end is nearly come, they lack
the strength and will to think them through. The need of solutions is
then cruelly pressed upon unpracticed and undisciplined minds.

Though I ask the question, how to grow old and how not to grow old, are
we not, if we will be frank, more interested in the question how not to
grow old than how to grow old? In the question, pressing a little
farther, how to seem not to grow old rather than how not grow old?
Seeming not to grow old may be attained by artificial means. Not to grow
old may be achieved by inward grace alone. Need it be said that no one
is ever deceived by external methods of averting age, nor is any one
profited or helped save perhaps the chemist and the dye-maker, save the
babblers and praters of new substitutes for old faiths? Whosoever thinks
of old age aright, whosoever has fitted himself for the dignity of the
burden of many days will resort neither to renewing cosmetics nor novel
cults as a refuge from old age.

Men speak of the penalties of old age and penalties there are, but what
of its rewards, rich and abundant and wondrous, richer indeed in most
cases than its desert? The old, because they are old, are treated for
the most part as if they were travelers returning richly laden with
stores of varied treasures from a voyage over remotest seas to some
strange and wondrous spot. Old age in itself is no more a reward than a
penalty. And yet what rewards, paraphrasing Shakespeare, accompany old
age, and how fitting that these rewards, friendship-bearing,
honor-bringing, should wait upon what might elsewise be life’s
melancholy end!

The truth is that old age is not a period of rewards nor penalties in
themselves. It is a time of duties, as every period offers life’s cup
with duties brimming o’er. Duties there are,—but there are privileges
beyond estimate. And the privilege of privileges is to offer an example
to others in all ways and most of all in the way of facing life with
serenity. Finer far for old age to claim its duties than to enjoy its
privileges for the old ought to shun being pitied as weak and seek
rather to be admired as strong and honored as serene.

When old age has the grace of exalting duty and subordinating privilege,
it ceases to be the period of mute resignation. From one point of view,
it is the age of resignation, for one wittingly resigns in part what
death is wholly to take away, but, be it made clear, resignation is not
inaction, renunciation is not willlessly surrendering torpor. These
things imply will, action, choice, not merely an awaiting of the end
without murmur or complaint. For old age waits not but wills; old age
surrenders not but whilst life is renders return for life.

While different types of laws seem to obtain for youth, maturity and old
age, these yet are one and one spirit seems to pervade and dominate all.
Let youth hold high its aim and pursue high aims through holy means. Let
maturity serve and achieve and above all achieve only that it may serve
with unimpaired admiration and undimmed ideals. And let old age be nobly
wise and unafraid and unselfish to the end!

Much, if not everything, of the content of old age depends on the things
for which one cares. If one care for the things that cannot survive
youth or middle age, whose value is inevitably lessened with the flight
of years, then old age must become barren and empty. Whether your old
age is to be void and meaningless depends almost wholly not upon what
you have and care for at seventy or eighty, but what it was you sought
to have at twenty, what you cared for at thirty, what you cherished at
forty. Certain things may be harmless, even admirable in themselves, and
yet are destined to be woefully disappointing if they are suffered to
become the pursuits of a lifetime and men give themselves to things for
which they cannot care when the years have multiplied.

Myopia may interfere with one’s zest for looking upon motion pictures,
limbs may become too rheumatic for dancing, tragic though this may
sound, the hazard of games of chance may lose its fascination, even
money-making, the accumulation of things, may pall or become impossible.
But certain things there are that can never grow stale nor wearying nor
seem unprofitable. Upon these let men fix their vision and their aim,
the pleasures of the mind, the tasks of the spirit, the possibilities of
serving. It is almost life’s greatest danger that life will be lived
with care for things interest in which cannot survive youth and middle
age. What if a man were so to train himself physically that he could run
and do nothing else, so that after the period of running had passed, he
could not walk! Would not such modus vivendi seem unwise and sadly

Would you avoid growing old? Do you will even to seem not to grow old?
Then have a vision of life and amid a multiplicity of things have and
hold, cherish and pursue an ideal. To the man of ideals, to the man who
in other words lives, age comes not. Age cannot touch nor wither nor
blast the life pervaded and smitten through by ideals. Would you grow
old, or rather would you not grow old, then live, and live by the stars.
Such are the lives of the unaging. In order not to grow old, I say
again, grow on in faith and hopefulness, in vision and serviceableness.
Being without these things, some men cannot grow old, they are old.
Unhappily for them, they were born old, as other men, whatever be the
number of their years, die young. Having these things, age cannot ravage
the spirit.

Such men and women are age-proof, their heads may be silver white, their
frames bowed, their limbs palsied, but age they know not,—the men I have
in mind, such men as that great physician who, after sixty years and
more of unwearied and unrivaled service, is still an impassioned pleader
for the right of the child, of the merest, puniest babe. Who will dare
say that he is aged, who at fourscore and more spends himself utterly in
the service of the least of these? I am thinking of yet another friend
of fourscore and more, whose life is nobly dedicated to the furtherance
of amity between faith and faith, who serves all men as brothers, who
proves that he is a Christian by the love he bears the Jew. And I am
thinking of yet another man who likewise has lived for fourscore years,
perhaps the foremost educator of our generation, a publicist of
matchless felicity in utterance and conduct alike, a man who at eighty
and more steps into the arena with all the power and eagerness of youth
in order to take up arms on behalf of another great though much wronged
servant of the nation.

It was once said of Theodore Parker that he gave himself unreservedly
and with abandon to whatever truth, duty, love, the three sublime voices
of God,—the real trinity in our souls,—commanded. Truth, duty, love!
Have you tried these things? Have you dared to live by them and for
them, by and for any one of them? Does not this word bear out what was
recently said by a great American physician about a noble social
worker,—that individual, who has no object in life, who simply works day
by day, with the idea that he is making a dollar and is going to use the
dollar for his own comfort, cannot have a very peaceful mind. But if one
has an object in life, to attain certain things which will be helpful to
others, and whose day is filled with that sort of work, that individual
deserves,—and other things being equal,—will have an old age.

Truth, duty, love,—obey their command and when you do you shall find age
a fiction and life alone a reality. What if old age be without teeth and
eyes if it be not without hope and faith and fadeless memories!

                “To suffer and endure,
                To keep the spirit pure—
              The fortress and abode of holy Truth—
                To serve eternal things
                Whate’er the issue brings
              This is not broken Age, but ageless Youth.”

If then life be centered on self, old age may rest in the certitude of
disappointment and disillusion. But if self be centered on life, then
may come what Morley described, touching Edmund Burke, as “an
unrebellious temper and hopes undimmed for mankind.”

Twofold must be the hope of man,—for a future for self and for the
future for all. And when the soul is so freighted with hopes, then shall
it be said of a man as it was said of the great poet: “He was one of
those on the lookout for every new idea and for every old idea with a
new application, which may tend to meet the growing requirements of
society; one of those who are like men standing on a watch-tower to whom
others apply and say, not ‘What of the night?’ but ‘What of the morning
and of the coming day?’”

My one word of counsel is,—let life not be centered on self, for to live
for self is to invite cruel disaster in old age. The saddest, in truth
the most tragic, lives I know are those of old men and women who have
nothing to live for because they have lived for self and self alone,—and
self is nothing. Their lives are piteously empty. For the restlessness
and excitement of youth may hide this truth, but age, like death, is a
revealer. And there are many types of selfishness. I speak of two which
must suffice. There are those who live for self,—for selfissimus, giving
not the utmost for the highest but all for the nighest,—self, self,
self, self’s pleasure and profit and power and vantage and fame. These
are the most crude and obvious types of the selfful, who shall pay the
penalty of their folly and their moral disease.

But, though it be said to your dismay, there are other types of
selfishness, though less obvious,—the selfishness of those who project
self into and magnify self in family relationship. For there are those
who simply extend the horizon of self enough to include other forms of
self, one’s own, one’s nearest, one’s flesh and blood. And here, too,
disillusion is bound to come and ought to come, for one’s own cannot and
ought not to fill one’s life forever. One might well excuse our mothers
and fathers for giving their thought and attention to their own, for
these were many and life was hard and life’s struggle ofttimes bitter.
But for the fewest is such excuse valid now,—if ever it was
valid—especially seeing that we concentrate upon the giving to others of
things rather than upon helping others to their highest and best. In
truth, people concentrate upon self, upon their own interests and
wishes, and these things pass and little or nothing is left in life save
self. Live for yourself, and you live two years in one; live in the life
of others, and you divide your years with another.

Is not all this a paraphrase of what Emerson has said better than any
other? He who loves is in no condition old. Not lives and lives for
self, not loves self and self alone, but he who loves! Emerson, building
better perhaps than he knew, has voiced the deepest truth of the soul.
Love cannot die and love will not let die nor yet grow old. And yet as a
final word, and more needed than all else, I would say that there is
only one way to grow old, and that too is the only way not to grow old.
That way is to know, to love, to serve.

        “Grow old along with me!
        The Best is yet to be,
        The last of life for which the first was made;
        Our times are in His hand
        Who saith, ‘A whole I planned,’
        Youth shows but half: Trust God: see all nor be afraid.”

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