If age is just a number, what does that number mean?

This is a difficult question to answer because grouping all prime-ers over the age of 65 into one group and calling it “seniors” is woefully inadequate. Grouping all people 65 to 100 into one category is arbitrary and doesn’t show the diversity that exists among older adults. Some people are “old” in mindset and actions at age 50, while an 85-year-old might act vibrantly and young at heart in accepting and using all the new technological gadgets coming on the market.


Some people try to defy the ever-increasing number on the scale of 65 to 100 by any means accessible to them, particularly those wanting to look as young as they feel. And so they rely on hair color, make-up designed to erase wrinkles, as well as surgical lifts of one sort or another. But while these things are helpful with appearance, they cannot help the “seniors” deny their birth date when asked.

Each of us prime-ers must answer the question about the meaning of the age number at which we currently sit, knowing that it will keep going higher — we hope. What that number means depends on a number of variables in our lives that include our health; our wealth; our values; our value to family, friends and organizations; our value to ourselves; our abilities, to name but a few. That number, therefore, does not define us as seniors; rather, it is what we do with that number that makes it mean something valuable.

So what are we doing with our number? How are we using our time, talents and resources to make our lives valuable? Are there ways that we can make others’ lives valuable as well?

‘Service is the rent we pay for living.’

I ran across this quotation recently and thought it was helpful in determining what we as prime-ers should do to make our lives meaningful. The quotation was written by Marian Wright Edelman in her 1992 book, The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours. Born in 1939, Edelman is the founder and president emeriti of the Children’s Defense Fund and became mainly an activist for poor children, children of color and children with disabilities, but also an activist in the Civil Rights Movement. Having graduated from Spelman College and Yale Law School (1963), she became the first African-American woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar.

Her full quotation reads: “Service is the rent we pay for living. It is the very purpose of life, not something you do in your spare time.” That quotation has commitment written all over it. From Edelman’s point of view service to others is like a financial commitment that we cannot escape if we wish to live a life that has meaning. Service to others is a commitment of our time, talent and resources to give our own life meaning and purpose. In turn, those we serve receive purpose and meaning for their lives. Edelman strongly suggests that we are born to serve. It is not something we choose to do; rather, it is an obligation.

In still another quotation, Edelman wrote: “If you don’t like the way the world is, you have an obligation to change it. Just do it one step at a time.” So, the question I would ask of us is what have we been doing to change our world for the better? What service are we doing for others that pays our rent for space on this earth? Can we say that our service is the purpose of our life? Are we committed to serve others?

Certainly a very positive graduation requirement in the great State of Maryland is to have every student graduate with hours of volunteer service to the community. Students learn early in life the importance of committing the time, talents and resources to better the lives of the less fortunate, to make life better for the greater community, to give of themselves for a cause greater than themselves.

Not needing a graduation requirement to spur them to do good works, many prime-ers have been giving of themselves in service for many years. In fact, my mother inspired me to volunteer as she had spent her time, talents and resources for her church and other non-profit groups as well as community organizations. I soon found that I could make my life more meaningful by doing the same. We can all make our age number meaningful and our lives valuable by serving as we are able and where we are needed in our communities.

I am reminded of a an old hymn that I heard as a child and was recorded by none other than Ella Fitzgerald, the Blackwood Brothers, and Burl Ives, to name a few. It is called “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.” The words of advice still resonate with relevance. Here are a couple of the stanzas, beginning with the chorus:

Brighten the corner where you are!

Brighten the corner where you are!

Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar:

Brighten the corner where you are!


Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do,

Do not wait to shed your light afar,

To the many duties ever near you now be true,

Brighten corner where you are! (Repeat chorus)

Here for all your talent you may surely find a need,

Here reflect the bright and Morning Star,

Even from your humble hand the Bread of Life may feed,

Brighten the corner where you are. (Repeat chorus)

Hermine Saunders writes a monthly Prime column for Life & Times.