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Old Age

( Originally Published 1879 )

"Now falls lighter than the snow of age;
but none is heavier, for it never melts."

THE figure is by no means novel, but the closing - part of the sentence is new as well as emphatic. The Scriptures represent age by the almond-tree, which bears blossoms of the purest white. "The almond-tree shall flourish," the head shall be hoary. Dickens says of one of his characters, whose hair was turning gray, that it looked as if Time had lightly splashed his snows upon it in passing.

"It never melts"—no never. Age is inexorable. Its wheels' must move onward; they know no retrograde movement. The old man may sit and sing, "I would I were a boy again," but he grows older as he sings. He may read of the elixir of youth, but he cannot find it; he may sigh for the secrets of that alchemy which is able to make him young again, but sighing brings it not. He may gaze backward with an eye of longing upon the rosy scenes of early years, as one who gazes on his home from the deck of a departing ship, which every moment carries him farther and farther away. Poor old man! he has little more to do than die.

"It never melts." The snow of winter comes and sheds its white blessings upon the valley and the mountains, but soon the sweet spring conies and smiles it all away. Not so with that upon the brow of the tottering veteran. There is no spring whose warmth can penetrate its eternal frost. It came to stay. Its single flakes fell unnoticed—and now it is drilled there. We shall see it increase until we lay the old man in his grave. There it shall be absorbed by the eternal darkness—for there is no age in heaven. `

The young, who all wish to live, but who at the same time have a dread at growing old, may not be disposed to allow the justice of the representation we are now to make. They regard old age as a dreary season, that admits of nothing which can be called pleasure, and very little which deserves the name even of comfort. They look forward to it, as in autumn we anticipate the approach of winter; but winter, though it terrifies us at a distance, has nothing very formidable when it arrives. Its enjoyments are of a different kind, but we find it not less pleasant than any other season of the year.

In like manner old age, frightful as it may be to the young, who view it afar off, has no terror to them who see it near; but experience proves that it abounds with consolations, and even with delights. We should look therefore with pleasure on many old men, whose illuminated faces and hoary heads resemble one of those pleasant days in winter, so common in this climate, when a bright sun darts its beams on a pure field of snow. The beauty of spring, the splendor of summer, and the glory of autumn are gone; but the prospect is still lively and cheerful.

Among other circumstances which contribute to the satisfaction of this period of life, is the respect with which old age is treated. There are, it must be acknowledged and lamented, some foolish and ill-educated young persons who do not pay that veneration which is due to the hoary head; but these examples are not numerous.

The world in general bows, down to age, gives it precedence, and listens with deference to its opinions. Old age wants accommodations; and it must in justice to man be allowed that they are afforded with cheer-fulness. Who can deny that such reverence is soothing to the human mind? and that it compensates us for the loss of many pleasures which are peculiar to youth?

The respect of the world in general is gratifying; but the respect of a man's own offspring must yield heartfelt delight. Can there be a more pleasing sight, than a venerable old man surrounded by his children and grandchildren, all of whom are emulous of each other in testifying their homage and affection? His children, proud of their honored father, strive who shall treat him with the most attention, while his grandchildren hang on his neck, entertain him with their innocent prattle, and convince him that they love their grandfather not less than they love their father. Whoever takes a little child into his love, may have a very roomy heart, but that child will fill it all. The children that are in the world keep us from growing old and cold; they cling to our garments with their little hands, and impede our progress to petrification; they win us back with their pleading eyes from cruel care; they never encumber us at all. A poor old couple, with no one to love them, is a most pitiful picture; but a hovel with a small face to fill a broken pane, here and there, is robbed of its desolateness. A little thoughtful attention, how happy it makes the old ! They have outlived most of the friends of their early youth. How lonely their hours ! Often their partners in life have long filled silent graves, often their children they have followed to the tomb. They stand solitary, bending on their staff, waiting till the same call shall reach them. How often they must think of absent, lamented faces, of the love which cherished them, and the tears of sympathy which fell with theirs—now all gone. Why should not the young cling around and comfort them, cheering their gloom with happy smiles?

That old man! what disappointments he has encountered in his long journey, what bright hopes blasted, what sorrows felt, what agonies endured, how many loved ones he has covered up in the grave. And that old woman too ! husband dead, children all buried or far. away, life's flowers faded, the friends of her youth no more, and she waiting to go soon. Ought we ever to miss an opportunity of showing attention to the aged, of proffering a kindness, or lighting up a smile, by a courteous act or a friendly deed?

Why speak of age in a mournful strain? It is beautiful, honorable, eloquent. Should we sigh at the proximity of death, when life and the world are so full of emptiness? Let the old exult because they are old. If any must weep, let it be the young, at the long succession of cares that are before them. Welcome the snow, for it is the emblem of peace and of rest. It is but a temporal crown which shall fall at the gates of Paradise, to be replaced by a brighter and a better.

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