- Written by Walt Sonneville Walt Sonneville
“Be All You Can Be” was the Army’s recruitment slogan from 1980 to 2001. Now that they have retired the slogan, it is fitting for the “army” of those 50 years of age and older to adopt that orphan.
The poster model for this army could be a digitally edited, idealized image of Albert Einstein, which has circulated on the internet. It depicts the shirtless Einstein with the body of an Atlas and the recognizable facial features of this renowned genius. What a man! Einstein portrays all he could be.
Like all of us, Einstein in real life is denied the possibility of all he could be. He—and we—have the time and opportunity to become only what we can be.
As a child, Einstein was slow in learning how to speak. He said he tended to think in pictures rather than words. The family maid called him “the dopey one.” One of his schoolmasters said he would never amount to much. Fortunately for us, Einstein accomplished much by being all he can be.
Be all you can be. Look at your advancing years as a gateway to refresh your unrealized aspirations, a time when you choose to pursue what you want.
Life takes from us and denies us many things. One thing it cannot take from us is all of our choices. Some choices belong to us. Our choices determine what we can be. We don’t have the time to become everything we could be.
Washington Irving (1783-1859) was a fine writer, but his fictional character, Rip Van Winkle, was misguided when he rejoiced that he had reached “that happy age when a man can be idle with impunity.”
Nonsense, Rip! That is only slightly true. Most of us need some solitude—not idleness—to reflect, to listen to music, to relax in other productive leisure. Productive activity of one’s choice gives us a sense of purpose.
We are “over the hill” chronologically, but we are not under the hill. There is a life of activity ahead of us. Einstein had a guiding perspective. He said, “Life is like a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
Keeping your bicycle of life balanced begins with a mindset. Our average lifespan is about 80 years of age, twice what it was about 150 years ago. Adopt the mindset that you have been blessed with two 40-year lives, the last 40 of which are the “bonus decades.”
Aging can be a time for growth. Maybe that is why we use the term growing older. Consider the mindset of Pablo Casals, the famed cellist. He was asked by one of his pupils why, at the age of 91, he continued to practice.
Casals replied: “Because I am making progress.”
The American poet May Sarton (1912-1995), when she turned 70, welcomed her advancing years “because I am more myself than I have ever been. When I was younger I was a daughter, then a wife, and then a mother. I have discovered myself in the last 25 years—what are my strengths, what I like to do.”
A most impressive rationale for following a chosen hobby was expressed by Winston Churchill in his short book entitled Painting as a Pastime.
Sir Winston had this to say about his enjoyment with that art: “It came to my rescue in a most trying time. Painting is a friend who makes no undue demands, excites to no exhausting pursuits, keeps faithful pace even with feeble steps.
“Happy are the painters, for they shall not be lonely. Light and color, peace and hope, will keep them company to the end, or almost to the end, of the day.”
He encouraged his readers to “buy a paint box and have a try. There is close at hand a wonderful new world of thought and craft, a sunlit garden gleaming with light and color of which you have the key.
“If you try and fail, there is not much harm done. We must not be too ambitious. We cannot aspire to masterpieces. We may content ourselves with a joyride in a paint box.”
What a splendid testimony to one’s chosen hobby. For those not likely to engage painting as a hobby, Sir Winston’s cheery endorsement is almost sufficient to move one to reconsider this as an activity of growth.
“If you try and fail, there is not much harm done.”
Walt Sonneville, a retired market-research analyst, is the author of My 22 Cents’ Worth: The Higher-Valued Opinion of a Senior Citizen and A Musing Moment: Meditative Essays on Life and Learning, books of personal-opinion essays, free of partisan and sectarian viewpoints. Contact him at email@example.com.