Sometimes I think that I’m getting more crotchety as I age, or perhaps I’m just becoming less tolerant of poor behavior and/or attitude from people who are supposed to be serving the public.

My friend Betty and I experienced the negative attitude of a waitress at a recent visit to a restaurant where we had always been treated with respect. That same evening, in a visit to a drugstore, my last nerve was tested when the incorrect medicine was brought to the counter despite my having been there four days ago and again two days ago with the same result and despite having talked on the phone three times with several clerks and even a pharmacist who assured me that the matter was taken care of.


Not. I had to trek back there a third time for the same script!

Oh well, these are some of the things we put up with as we age; speaking of which, I will be 77 in a few days.

Wasn’t I just the double nickel (55) a few short years ago? Twenty-two to be exact!

I remember fellow school employees putting up “Over the Hill” jokes on my office door to remind me that time would go faster after 55.

Ever since I’ve been in my 70s, older people have said, “You’re still just a kid!” Still others, both older and younger, have said, “You really look good ...” — you know the rest — “for your age.”

I suppose it is nice to be thought of as aging well, but if I am becoming less tolerant of those who do not take responsibility or who are insensitive, I wonder if that is reflected in my face, overall looks, and actions.

As I was reflecting on that thought, I came across 17th century poet John Donne’s “Elegy IX: The Autumnal,” written to his patron Mrs. Magdalen Herbert. In the poem Donne uses autumn to refer to a time of life, a time of full maturity, perhaps age 40 to 50 in his day, with old age to follow to the grave. The first six lines express his feeling that youthful beauty cannot compare to the mature beauty of his subject, his patron, in this platonic relationship. He says:

No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace;

As I have seen in one autumnal face.

Young beauties force our love, and that’s a rape,

This doth but counsel, yet you cannot scape.

If ‘twere a shame to love, here ‘twere no shame;

Affection here takes reverence’s name.

Donne obviously elevates the spiritual values of maturity over the physical advantages of youth. The poem reminds us of what we should reflect as we age — grace, counsel or wisdom, and spiritual love, all reflective of inward beauty.


In still other lines, Donne demonstrates what autumnal age should reflect; namely, a sparkling personality, faithfulness, and tolerance:

Were her first years the golden age? That’s true,

But now she’s gold oft tried and ever new.

That was her torrid and inflaming time,

This is her tolerable tropic clime.

Further qualities of love’s smiles and laughter, as well as a steadiness from being anchored are reflected in these lines:

Call not these wrinkles, graves; if graves they were,

They were Love’s graves,

Yet lies not Love dead here, but here doth sit

Vow’d to this trench, like an anachorit;

Words like “graves” and “trench” seem not very flattering, but are part of Donne’s exaggerated comparisons. They help us understand Donne’s attempt to say that our autumnal years are preparing us for the inevitable winter years, that in his day probably meant the 50s and 60s, and in the present day generally encompass our 80s and 90s and beyond. In later lines in the poem, Donne even uses more grotesque imagery and humor, particularly about the teeth of the very old.

Still other qualities of those in their autumnal years are reflected in such words and metaphors as these lines disclose — contentment and delight, teaching and solidness:

Here where still evening is, not noon nor night,

Where no voluptuousness, yet all delight.

In all her words, unto all hearers fit,

You may at revels, you at council, sit.

This is Love’s timber, youth his underwood;

In thinking about all the qualities of the autumnal years that Donne expresses, I believe that as we age we are called upon to reflect the genuine virtues that are found within us — the “gold oft tried and ever new” — that can help us be more tolerant of intolerable people and teach them something of value and demonstrate the wisdom of our years. We can perhaps say with Donne:

If we love things long sought, age is a thing

Which we are fifty years in compassing;

If transitory things, which soon decay,

Age must be loveliest at the latest day.

We can look on aging, then, as a badge of honor. Or, we can respond, in the recent words of a smug Garfield when a younger cat told him he looks good for 40, “Aging well is the best revenge!”