Ageing - A Series of Reflections

Blog 15 Image Ageing 4 Ripeness 0ct 11Part 4. Ripeness. Some wise persons tell me that we do not age, we ripen! In my last piece, I found myself rejoicing in the greening power of Hildegard of Bingen’s viriditas, as I discovered that it can be cultivated and grow within us, opening us up to a spring- time of the soul even as we grow older and less active. Now I add to that the consoling idea that we also ripen.

The Lithuanian poet and Nobel Laureate, Czeslaw Milosz admits, unashamedly that he stumbled, on what he called ‘late ripeness’ as he approaches his ninetieth year. Big ‘roundy’ birthdays have this effect on us. A door opens for him, he says, and he enters ‘the clarity of early morning.’  For him it was a moment of clear-sightedness, of healing, and redemption.

Slowly, he recontextualises his life, gifted as he is with an expanded consciousness.

He sees his life in a new way. In the past, he had suffered persecution under the Stalinist regime, was silenced as an artist and forced into exile. Even if we don’t know the full details of his life, we know enough to understand the process by which he finds a new level of ripeness in old age. He leads us, step by step, through a process we can follow.

First, he sees his ‘former lives’ depart, ‘like ships, together with their sorrows.’ A space opens up, where on the palette of his memory, he creates a colourful collage of the works he has created, ready to be appreciated and exhibited ‘better than before.’ His only regret is, like all of us, he used only ‘a hundredth part of the talent entrusted to him.’  His talent is God-given. He knows there are dreams he can still fulfil.

Although at one time he was forced to leave his homeland, it never left him. A deep Christian faith connects him to his people, strong in the realisation that ’We are all children of the king,’ and his life’s work like many, is to be ‘a worker in the vineyard.’

We can learn from Milosz that it is never too late to awaken to the wonder of a life dedicated to truth and beauty. By recontextualising his life, he can let go of hurt and be grateful for the immense talent entrusted to him. He was never separated from his compatriots since they were all united in the faith that bound them together as workers for the kingdom of God.

Milosz’s poem inspires us to pause, to allow our consciousness to expand, and decide to travel light into later life, grateful for the talents entrusted to us and the work we have achieved. You and I are too old now to be victims of the past. Ours is a time to be grateful. Awareness of what unites is stronger than what separates us. The notion that ‘We are all children of the king’ brings us spiritually closer to one another and capable of a universal fellowship with all humankind who, like us, labour in God’s vineyard, ‘whether they are aware of it or not.’   

By Úna Agnew SSL