I can think of no Western tradition that truthfully and faithfully transmits the Wisdom of Aging from the dying, elderly, and recently deceased to the young and newly born; nothing that prepares you, in any way, for the actual Passage of Time. Not the general Passage of Time— in evenly-parsed seconds, days, and years— but the perspectival passage from Birth to Childhood to Adolescence to Adulthood to Middle Age to Old Age to Death, with its own anxious brand of Time-reckoning, and its endless compare-and-contrast games with other age brackets. What is this even called, this vista and particular wisdom of Aging?
When I'm on the verge of Death, filling bedpan after bedpan with bile-blood-spittle, I'm going to manage, in between heaves, to pen a Children's Book about the Passage of Time. I know Seuss or Sendak did something along those lines, among others, but I don't want to cheer or spare the child— I want to prepare him, morally and martially. To say at points
"When you are a child, Adulthood will seem like an unimaginably wide sea, buffering Death. But the moment you wade into the waters, you clearly see the other shore approaching."
Or "you will hear older people say that Time passes faster as you grow older, and you will think that they're just speaking loosely, figuratively. They're not. The Passage of Time will accelerate to such a degree that it induces a panic. What you see, in the desperation of the Aging, is people responding to this panic rather than just the Passage of Time itself."
Or, "your peers will always appear to be the Neutral Reasonably Median Age. Younger people will always look like Children, even when those younger people are in their forties. Older people will always seem fully matured, even in Fifth Grade. This illusion never subsides. It's something metabolic."
Because Childhood is still the time before Time, only in Adulthood do we start feeling the Passage of Time in full force, in that second sense, only with an added silent outrage over its irreversibility. The feeling of being pushed through a room by a moving wall. Once out of Adolescence, one of the greatest, secret fantasies we have is the cessation of Time— for that moving wall of Common Time to halt. This desire is expressed not just personally but in ahistorical, atemporal longings. Childhood, and even Adolescence, has little such fantasy except for a teeny-bopping "nostalgia for the present." We get this elation in viewing something like Groundhog's Day, an elation aside from just the empowerment we feel from his foreknowledge of events. Bill Murray is experiencing the ultimate fantasy, the cessation of Time.
The Passage of Time ceases long enough for him to master the moment: our ultimate fantasy, the pointless fantasy of re-living life from birth with all your current, accumulated wisdom. Or just having a few years, outside of Time, just to catch up.
But I think, experientially, most problems related with Aging are dispositional— anxious reactions to the Passage of Time rather than anything hard and necessary. In reality, the consequences of Aging— death, disease, and degeneration— are not until the near-end. Still, not counting the age-angst of the young— "I'm not old enough to stay up and watch Saturday Night Live"— our age-angst, begins thirty and forty years before degeneration, on the doorstep of adulthood, or even with the End of Childhood. I wrote about this before, about the meanings of Childhood, and how its perspectives are suppressed— or dismissed— because, one, adult wisdoms follow childhood wisdoms, and thus are seen as superior rather than just horizontally different in a Gadamerian way.
And two, because Children are a disempowered, marginalized voice— one of the only groups whose disempowerment is publicly acceptable and lauded— and therefore add less to the common perspectival Horizon. They're clumped in with the mad, the retarded, animals, and everything else "lacking in reason." But I think the Childhood perspective is vastly under-appreciated— belittled, made quaint— because it contradicts Adulthood prejudices. This is the same dismissal that, flowing from the Paternal Sovereign, was and is directed toward the Maternal Figure.
And this dismissal badly distorts the human personality which, s Freud said, is mostly formed in childhood. What is critical for the personality is a rich synthesis of these life-epochs, in again the Gadamerian sense.
"Time is no longer primarily a gulf to be bridged, because it separates, but it is actually the supportive ground of process in which the present is rooted. Hence temporal distance is not something that must be overcome. This was, rather, the naive assumption of historicism, namely that we must set ourselves within the spirit of the age, and think with its ideas and its thoughts, not with our own, and thus advance towards historical objectivity. In fact the important thing is to recognise the distance in time as a positive and productive possibility of understanding. It is not a yawning abyss, but is filled with the continuity of custom and tradition, in the light of which all that is handed down presents itself to us."— Gadamer.
Interpret this with historical age being substituted by personal age, and the "naive assumption of historicism" being translated into the common injunction to act your age. I think the Young and Old should work together more, to remind and warn one another, for a better, richer, healthier synthesis. I'm s guilty of this as anyone, allowing my early distrust of other parents generalize into a wariness of my elders.
Which brings me to other questions concerning Age as strata, and the stratification of generations. Why are Children and the Elderly rarely friends, in any real way? In what ways is this Passage of Time something metabolic, bound with health? Can we make sense of life-epochs without universal rites-of-passage, like bad marriages and early retirement? Why do these temper the anxieties, if they mark the slipping of Time, just as birthdays do?
What intrigues me, as well, is this idea as age groups as cultures— comparable to ethnic, religious, or regional cultures. The passage of Time forces your emigration from cultures; an emigration across Time rather than Space. Age-anxieties are, then, a form of culture shock; and nostalgia, a form of homesickness, a Ulyssean longing.