The Best is Yet to Be: Joyful Aging From Browning to Lennon to Carpenter
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made
–Robert Browning, “Rabbi Ben Ezra,” 1864
In 1980, John Lennon, just before he was killed at the age of 40,
rediscovered these words, simplified them, and set them to music
after Yoko Ono had done the same for another classic poem,
Elizabeth Barret Browning’s “Let Me Count the Ways.”
Here is Mary Chapin Carpenter singing the draft of a song she makes her own.
The song was never recorded in the way Lennon and Ono envisioned it,
as a wedding “standard” played with horns.
But the music still lives, partly because the words of Browning still live.
Like Lennon, I have returned to Browning’s words.
“Grow old along with me
The best is yet to be.”
They could be the theme song of “jubilacion,” the theme we’ve been exploring together in this space.
Some words live long after they were written.
One of the lifelong benefits of being a English teacher is that
a few beautiful texts, sometimes known as purple passages, have wrapped themselves around my soul
like vines around a tree trunk.
Rabbi Ben Ezra, the speaker in Browning’s poem,
Youth and age are connected to each other inextricably, like vines. Click To Tweet
Our youthful selves can relax in the realization that Divine providence inevitably will take us
into a paradoxical design for our lives,
redeeming even our failures.
That blessed assurance evades us sometimes, but great poets, like the two Brownings (both Robert and Elizabeth)
can speak about age from the best perspective, that of Love.
I am collecting words to savor as I enter older age.
Can you help?
The online world is full of quotation sites,
but the quotes I love best come from people’s lives.
What words from any story, song, or other source, seem strong enough to enter older age? Which ones do you hang on the walls of your home? Which ones decorate your heart?
This has been one of my favorite quotes for decades:
“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson
As a middle school guidance counselor, I found one line to be especially meaningful:
“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.”
After listening empathically to a young person tell his/her story…to be able to watch them draw in a deep breath of air and sigh, was the way I could “see” that I was helping that “one life breathe easier.”
After studying THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE, I knew what I was “witnessing” was a breath that was giving the student “psychological air,” as described by Covey.
To me, the Emerson quote offers guideposts along the path of life for young people, as well as milestone markers for those reflecting back on and remembering their lifelong contributions to mankind.
I love this quote, Sue. It reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s poem: “If I can start one heart from breaking.”
This Thursday in my class with college seniors we will look at the question of how to see God in each person. Your quote answers this question in a beautiful way. Thank you so much.
Such an inspiring post, Shirley. Here’s John Lennon singing the song:
I admit I’ve tended to bristle as the whole golden years trope. But you’ve made me think of it in a different way today: in its insistent elliptical way, it’s speaking of love and hinting at the spiritual answer. One of my favorite quotes, from W.B. Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium”:
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress
Those of us who have love, or had it, won the lottery. If that doesn’t have a spiritual dimension and make a plea for gratitude, I don’t know what does. No matter the question, isn’t the answer always love?
Richard, thank you for your quote from Yeats. Yeats had it so correct, an aged man, or woman, in my case is but a paltry thing. Our bodies fail. However with our age hopefully comes some wisdom.
And yes, the answer always is love.
Yes, Richard! The answer is always love. Thank you for bringing Yeats into the conversation. I love the clapping hands and singing, connected to the tatters and to mortality itself.
A plea for gratitude indeed. I end this day in gratitude for beautiful words that connect us over time and space. And for love itself. Thank you.
Shirley — I resonate with what Sue shared, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you lived.” That’s incredibly powerful.
On the “about” page on my website I wrote, “My goal is to leave the slightest footprint on the planet, while at the same time making a lasting impression on its inhabitants—one that is positive, uplifting, constructive, and healing.” If I can do that for one person, my time here has been well invested.
[By the way, I love your “Click to Tweet” feature. I just used it. Once my sabbatical is over I’m going to see if WordPress has a “Tweet This” or “Click to Tweet” feature that I can implement].
Laurie, your goal is one of the most beautiful mission statements I have ever read. Power to you as you live into these words. Your own words are more personally empowering than any quotation from someone else. They came from your very essence.
The Click to Tweet is easy to install in WP. I think it’s a plug in. My consultant found it for me. I think Sherrey Myer uses it also.
Forgive me if I have submitted this before but we need to remember that Joy comes right next to Love in spirit fruits.
Robert Browning. 1812–1889
718. Pippa’s Song
THE year ‘s at the spring,
And day ‘s at the morn;
Morning ‘s at seven;
The hill-side ‘s dew-pearl’d;
The lark ‘s on the wing; 5
The snail ‘s on the thorn;
God ‘s in His heaven—
All ‘s right with the world!
Glen, I memorized this poem in 8th grade but haven’t heard it in a long time. It fits the weather here in Harrisonburg today. It’s currently 75 degrees!!
Thanks for another Robert Browning offering.
And also for that little idea you slipped into your comment about the ordering of the fruits of the spirit. Love, joy, peace to you this beautiful day.
Another lovely post, Shirley. We saw Mary Chapin Carpenter this past October in Philadelphia when she opened for Joan Baez. I’m pretty sure she did this song.
I think these days the quotations that touch me the most are words about love and hope.
“i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)”–e.e. cummings
“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”–Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”
I also like that “tweet” feature. I noticed it on Kathy Pooler’s blog for the first time yesterday.
Lucky you to hear Mary Chapin Carpenter in person. One of the perks of living in a larger city. I look forward to seeing what Pittsburgh has to offer next year.
You picked some of my own favorite quotes above. We need these reminders more than ever before. Our precious words carried to us from the past.
I used this feature for the first time today. Thanks for the feedback! I was hoping it would carry the featured photo on Twitter, but I don’t think it has.
I just went on Twitter and checked–it did include the photo!
Thank you for checking and reporting back. Happy to know. It didn’t show up in my feed that way for some reason.
I listened to Mary Chapin Carpenter twice and watched the accompanying video. “Two branches of one tree” shimmers for me.
I love the connections between Carpenter, Lennon, Browning, God (scripture) and more. Thank you Shirley.
Browning’s line “Youth shows but half,” was illustrated in the choice of photos in the video. Most of the landscapes were of spring and summer, and that makes me supremely sad. Appreciation of the aging process needs to surround us in our gardens and landscapes. Trees can show us the many stages of dying and becoming one with all, if only we allow them in our gardens and forests. Instead we prune out and quickly get rid of the dying plants and harvest ‘the mature’ trees.
Isaiah gives wonderful promises about wholeness. This was our scripture from the silent retreat I was just on (sorry it’s so long, but all parts seem to belong together): “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched placed, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” Isaiah 58:9b-12
You are filled to the brim with passionate purpose after your silent retreat, Dolores. I feel your inspiration in these beautiful words.
I’m listening to the song above as I write to you. So I can’t see the images, but when I look at them again, I will be reminded that we need ALL the seasons to be whole, not just spring and summer.
“You shall be called the repairer of the breach.” Oh that we can be that. Nothing would be more beautiful.
A framed wall hanging has traveled with us from one house to another: “No act of kindness however small is ever wasted” (Aesop). These wise words decorate a bathroom wall – and the walls of my heart.
The wisdom contained is adaptable to all ages and stages of life: To those able to traverse the planet sowing kind seeds; to others with limited mobility who can brighten someone’s world with a crinkly-eyed smile.
To your capstone students, Shirley:
Take heed to all the lines in this column: They will light your way while enabling you to send bright beams into a dark world. And by all means, stay curious. Hold fast to wonder.
I’ll stop there for now!
How fortunate you are to have this class, this teacher, at this moment in your passage through life.
Any wall hanging that made it through the move must have won a permanent place in your heart, Marian. 🙂 And I know from experience that the words decorate your heart.
I love the idea that you spoke directly to my dear students, Marian. I don’t think they know that I write these weekly missives, but you tempt me to offer readers a way to connect to them and perhaps vice versa. I’ll think on that one.
I hope you recognized that I linked to the “purple passages” page of your lovely new website. 🙂
Yes, I did notice the Purple Passages link but didn’t click on it until now, another example of your kindness. Thank you!
Thank you for the lovely video “Grow Old Along With Me.” Pictures and music touched me deeply as I just came back from a funeral where the couple was married for over 60 years and now one is gone.
About favorite words: there are many, but right now I’m like Catherine of Siena who wrote after one of her divine visions: “And what shall I say? I will stutter `A–A` because there is nothing else I know how to say.”
How appropriate this video must be for you today, Elfrieda. Behind the song and the poem lies the reality that we don’t get to choose when we die. John Lennon didn’t even get to finish this song.
The fact that this response to a divine vision has stayed with you tells me that you are touched deeply not only by beautiful words but by the tremendously difficult task of coming to voice. To paraphrase Milton: “They also serve who only stand and stutter.”
Thank you Shirley, I’m listening as I write. I noticed her hands immediately and I can see her enfolding herself… it is a beautiful picture. As is the music ..
I have many quotes, I don’t know where to start.
Adrienne Rich: My heart is moved by all I cannot save; so much has been destroyed. I have to cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.
Joan Baez: You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die, or when. You can only decide how you’re going to live, now.
Betty Freidan: Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength …
Susan, I was hoping you might respond. As I opened your book (yes it has arrived), I noticed how many chapters included quotes. Some were old favorites and some were quite new to me. You picked some great ones. Thank you. This comment will remind people to check out your book! Only 12.99 here: https://www.amazon.com/Aging-Becoming-Reflective-Susan-Scott/dp/1541164016/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1486570410&sr=1-1
Shirley that is so kind thank you! The kindle or ebook price should read $9.99 –
Now is the time to tell you, since we’re talking about books – I bought yours a few days ago and have started it and loving it! We were born in the same year. There’ve been one or two synchronicities – the arrival of your baby brother after you’d been separated from your parents and stayed lovingly with your grandparents as you had german measles or chicken pox – this is exactly (not exactly) what happened to me – my elder brother and I had chicken pox or measles in my mother’s last trimester, so she went away .. and when she came back with a new baby, my sister, I was horrified .. I was very little.
How exciting to know my childhood stories are resonating with yours on the other side of the world. Thanks for reading Blush. Hope you enjoy it all the way through.
What a beautiful post, Shirley, to add to your fascinating and relevant Jubilacion celebration. I had never heard the Mary Carpenter song so thank you for sharing. I love quotes and my all-time favorite comes from scripture, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10). The quote on my website that speaks to my message of “sharing hope one story at a time” is by Ralph Hodgson,”Some things have to be believed to be seen”. I love your “Click toTweet” feature, too. And I echo Marian’s thoughts about how fortunate your students are to have you for their teacher and guide.
Thank you, Kathy. Your very presence in a room or in the comment section always brings calm, emanating from your stillness, and faith in God, within.
Thank your for your kind words and keep spreading hope one story at a time!
I’ll start with an image of aging I’ve held onto,
a photo in a magazine I cut out years ago of a woman in California, kayaking in the Pacific Ocean at 100 years old. Now that’s joy for life personified for me. This woman was an environmentalist and kayaker most of her adult life. As one who loves kayaking, this image is my vision for aging.
The first quote that popped up is this one:
“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”
And, my activist heart always loved the spirit of Mary Harris Jones, also known as Mother Jones or the Miners Angel.
“Jones worked as a teacher and dressmaker, but after her husband and four children all died of yellow fever in 1867, and her dress shop was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, she began working as an organizer for the Knights of Labor and the United Mine Workers union. From 1897, at about 60 years of age, she was known as Mother Jones.” Wikipedia
Her quote that says so much about her perseverance and strength was “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”
One last quote (I’ve seen it attributed to several people),
“The only limits in our life are those we impose on ourselves.” Bob Proctor
Clearly for me, focusing outward and demonstrating care and compassion via activism allows me to be an “animator of possibilities.” And this life approach enlivens me and brings me joy!
Audrey, I can just feel how connected you are to your youthful activism. You are rowing strongly into your own elder years. Reminds me, in part, of Anne Sexton’s poem called “Rowing.” Do you know it? https://www.poemhunter.com/best-poems/anne-sexton/rowing/
Keep rowing, and pushing past boundaries that artificially limit our imaginations and our work for a better world.
Love your activist heart!
Thank you, Shirley. No, this is my first time reading Anne Sexton’s, Rowing. I love it. I will read it several times more to take it all in. The last paragraph touches me,
“As the African says:
This is my tale which I have told,
if it be sweet, if it be not sweet,
take somewhere else and let some return to me.
This story ends with me still rowing.”
Yes, the call of activism initially came when I was so young. And, I’ve rowed through wave after wave of the ocean of justice work throughout my life. Currently, of course, our political times have storm waves of massive wall-size. But, I will never stop rowing. And, I do hope to be found with a metaphorical oar in my hands at life’s end here on earth.
You had me in tears here, Shirley. Beautiful words … hers and yours. All of us are on a very bumpy ride, but love and kindness will see us through the storms and into the sunlight. I’m grateful for so many things in my life, especially to be able to feel love.
I’m touched that you were moved, Joan. We need to cling to the mast during the storm, and the mast is love. Bless you.
Dear Shirley, thank you for sharing the lovely piece from Mary Chapin Charpenter. A favorite quote of mine is, Dance, like no one is watching, love, like you’ve never been hurt. Sing like no one is listening, Live like it’s heaven on earth. The one that hangs on my wall in the sewing room is, Your word a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105.
Thank you, June, for entering so wholeheartedly into the spirit of this post. I love your quotes, and I believe you have taken them to heart.
What a great place to put the Psalm 119 verse — in a sewing room! Where light is always of the essence. Love it.
I will assume there are many others that are in the same situation I am–not privileged with the opportunity to experience “Grow old with me”. Due to my husband’s death 14 years ago, the quote I will share is for fellow travelers on a different journey. This quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer was shared with me after my loss which may not fit the category of “favorite”, but rather “meaningful” and may touch others as well: “Nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love. It would be wrong to try to find a substitute; we must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation, for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bond between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; He does not fill it, but on the contrary, God keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain. The dearer and richer our memories, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude changes the pangs of memory into tranquil joy. The beauties of the past are borne, not as a thorn in the flesh, but as a precious gift in themselves. We must take care not to wallow in our memories or hand ourselves over to them, just as we do not gaze all the time at a valuable present, but only at special times, and apart from these keep it simply as a hidden treasure that is ours for certain. In this way the past gives us lasting joy and strength.”
Lovely, profound, words, Sue. And you know them from the inside out.
All of us will travel some part of the journey alone, whether from the loss of parent, partner, friend or child.
John Lennon was thinking of himself as an old man when he wrote the song above. Within weeks, he was gone.
May the emptiness of the gap give you and others you have blessed with these words the “tranquil Joy” and strength of the awareness of God’s love. Thank you for sharing.
Shirley, thank you for your message and always positive spirit. I see those beautiful hands, wrapping, holding, containing, and protecting. I didn’t try to listen to the song, but remember it. It’s a wonderful idea of life to collect quotes on aging or on living well.
I come up with this quote–not about our accumulated knowledge and wisdom, but about a necessary surrender to life and breathe in the present moment.
“There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.” ~Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
That’s a lovely quote, Elaine, and one of Kalanithi’s more imponderable ones. Is he saying we cannot become wise until we recognize our profound limits? A moment of pure humility?
What you dread comes quickly. What you desire comes slowly. This is a personal observation of life. Ever notice how an upcoming unpleasant event, such as a trip to the dentist or an exam when you were younger was upon you before you knew it? On the other hand pleasant events, such as going on vacation or when you were young, waiting for a birthday party or Christmas morning seemed to drag on forever. This always comes to me when I hear older people dreading each birthday. After all, what’s the alternative? I’ve applied this concept to aging for many years. At 65 I look forward to growing old, which gives me more time to enjoy the journey.
Welcome here, Randy. Yes, I have observed this difference in time, both between youth and age and between positive and negative. You might enjoy this post which reinforces your observation. http://shirleyshowalter.com/jubilee-time-chronos-or-kairos/
Now I’m off to see what you are writing about these days.
Bravo Mary Chapin! And thanks for posting this rendition. I’ve always loved Lenon, not so much Yoko Ono. I grew up on the beatles and just wish the man was alive today! Blessings:-)
With havin so much content do you ever run into any problems of plagorism or copyright violation? My blog has a lot of unique content I’ve either written myself or outsourced but it looks like a lot of
it is popping it up all over the web without my permission. Do you know any methods
to help stop content from being stolen? I’d really appreciate it.
I have not bothered to find out if others have stolen my content. I write a lot in the first person, which is probably one reason I haven’t seen my content copied. Good luck with yours. There are, of course, lawyers if you can afford them/think it worth your time.