C.W. Lewis is quoted as saying, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”Sadly, it seems this type of courage is less visible in the present than it was in the past. Nonetheless, I believe that seniors can do something to change this.
The way I see it, it may not require great courage to emulate the virtue of persistence, for example, when one is pursuing something that makes one’s heart sing. But I’d argue it does require courage to remain persistent or patient in the pursuit of some semblance of a normal lifestyle when one is facing serious or debilitating illness or injury. Along the same vein, it may not take great courage to show caring and compassion and kindness and generosity when friends are healthy and joyful. However, it can be a very different story when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune befall those we care about, and particularly if such things change them from people of seemingly generous spirit into individuals who fail to make overtures of gratitude for the things we might do to help them.
On a related note, when I think about the various stages we pass through on the journey from birth to death, I realize that while we might not face some of the same moral dilemmas we may have confronted earlier in life, it can still be challenging to remain true to those virtues we believe we should uphold or honor. Certainly, though, there is true value in electing to do so.
The pursuit of virtues, I believe, is a way to continue to find meaning or purpose in our lives—despite the ravages of time and the losses we invariably endure. Furthermore, since society is regularly making subtle statements—or sometimes not-so-subtle ones, too—that senior citizens are essentially archaic or obsolete, it's important to our own mental health that we find an argument to believe in that indeed, this is not the case. Fortunately, I believe that if we adhere to certain treasured virtues in our day-to-day living, we have the basis for doing exactly this.
Why do I say this? Well, from our years of living and observing not only our own behavior, but how many other people live their lives as well, I suspect that many of us know at a deep level—at the soul level, I would venture to say—that virtues do not become obsolete. However, because they can be disregarded and forgotten, people like us need to be out there living our virtue-driven lives. In doing so, we serve as role models for others and hence, are of significant benefit to society. Indeed, we help to continue to grow a kinder and gentler environment.
A Tale of Two Grandmothers
To better make my point, let me tell you the tale of two grandmothers—my grandmothers, that is. Before I do so, though, let me say that both individuals were very decent women. Furthermore, they’d both raised children of integrity—who became good parents to me. That all said, though, I still felt a closer connection and love for the one grandmother.
The grandmother I most adored was overweight. She was typically dressed in an out-of-style cotton print dress, and her gray hair was invariably its natural color and covered with a hairnet. My other grandmother, however, would invariably be dressed in a new dress and jacket which showed off her rather trim figure. Her hair would be styled and colored—or she was one of those so-called blue-haired ladies in the 1960’s. For that matter, my fashionable grandmother was adventuresome, and she traveled to and from Europe (she had been born and raised in Scotland, but came to the States as a young wife and mother because my grandfather’s work as an engineer brought him here) at a time when most widows didn’t do such things.
The thing is, it was my frumpy grandmother who had the kindest of faces, and although life had delivered her some tough blows, she remained joyful and enthusiastic about life. That all said, this wasn’t what most spoke to me. Indeed, I was most touched by her quiet caring, compassion, kindness, patience, peacefulness, and understanding. She demonstrated her love for me not so much by telling me that she loved me, but by demonstrating that love through her constant engagement in the virtues I have already named.
My beloved grandmother was a devout Christian woman. As a result, one could say that she was living her faith. But the thing is, virtues such as those my grandmother emulated are not merely embraced by Christians. Some people who have studied virtues worldwide have realized that there are probably over three hundred virtues that are held in common by the various scared traditions of different cultures around the world. Because of this, it would seem that through adhering to these virtues, or living our lives with these as our foundation, we have the opportunity to live our lives as our highest and best selves.
Living as the Highest and Best Self
It is the highest and best self that finds inner peace and joy in life—and delivers joy into the hearts of others through its peaceful presence and virtue-driven actions. In other words, someone operating from the highest and best self doesn’t have to come regularly bearing material gifts to be well-received by others. Such people are often sought out because they typically help others to feel good about themselves. It is a pleasure to be in the presence of such people.
As the senior members of society, it is probably easier for us to appreciate the fact that people of the world are more alike than they are different. We have come to recognize that most of us are desirous of the same things—such as to love and be loved. Some people go about trying to achieve these goals in ways that benefit their earthly brethren, however, whereas others pursue activities that are harmful to others and the world.
We need to perceive ourselves as role models for a better way—a way that shines light into the darkness which sometimes can feel as if it is a blanket about to be pulled up and over the entire world’s surface. Just as my grandmother helped me to feel or learn through experience about the gifts of a life lived from a foundation of virtues which help us to live life as our highest or best selves, we can do the same for others who might essentially be lost souls—or people on a route that will likely lead them to such a state eventually. So, it's important that we quietly model, through our own virtue-driven lives, how they might transform themselves.
Indeed, some of us will have the opportunity to remain fine role models until the very moments of our deaths. In fact, we might have a profound influence on others because of the way we consciously elect to handle the decline of our bodies, illnesses, and the shadow of death. However, as C.W. Lewis suggested, it will likely take living each virtue at the testing point for us to have this impact in those final months, weeks, and days. But wouldn't that be a noble ending and a fine gift to the loved ones we've left behind?