Everlasting Youth

Old age, in some of its aspects, is a most interesting and solemn mystery, though to the outward eye it is merely the gradual waning and extinction of existence.

All the faculties fold themselves up to a long, last sleep. First, the senses begin to close, and lock in the soul from the outward world. The hearing is generally the first to fail, shutting off the mind from the tones of affection and of melody. The sight fails next; and the pictures of beauty, on the canvas spread round us morning and evening, become blurred. The doors and windows are shut toward the street. The invasion keeps on steadily toward the seat of life. The images of the memory lose their outline, run together, and at last melt away into darkness. Now and then, by a special effort, rents are made in the clouds, and we see a vista opening through the green glades of other years. But the edges of the cloud soon close again. It settles down more densely than ever, and all the past is blotted out. Then the reason fails, and the truths it had elaborated flicker and are extinguished. Only the affections remain. Happy for us, if these also have not become soured or chilled. It is our belief, however, that these may be preserved in their primitive freshness and glow; and that in the old age where the work of regeneration is consummating, the affections are always preserved bright and sweet, like roses of Eden, occupying a charmed spot in the midst of snows. In old age, men generally seem to have grown either better or worse. The reason is, that the internal life is then more revealed, and its spontaneous workings are more fully manifested. The intellectual powers are no longer vigilant to control the expression of the internal feelings, and so the heart is generally laid open. What we call the moroseness and peevishness of age is none other than the real disposition, no longer hedged in, and kept in decency, by the intellect, but coming forth without disguise. So again, that beautiful simplicity and infantile meekness, sometimes apparent in old age, beaming forth, like the dawn of the coming heaven, through all the relics of natural decay, are the spontaneous effusions of sanctified affections. There is, therefore, a good and a bad sense, in which we speak of the second childhood. Childhood is the state of spontaneity. In the first childhood, before the intellect is formed, the heart answers truly to all impressions from without; as the Æolian harp answers to every touch of the breeze. In the second childhood, after the intellect is broken down, the same phenomenon comes round again; and in it you read the history of all the intervening years. What those years have done for the regeneration of the soul will appear, now that its inmost state is translucent, no longer concealed by the expediencies learned of intellectual prudence. When the second childhood is true and genial, the work of regeneration approaches its consummation; and the light of heaven is reflected from silver hairs, as if one stood nearer to Paradise, and caught reflections of the resurrection glories.

But alas! is this all that is left of us, amid the memorials of natural decay? Senses, memory, reason, all blotted out, in succession, and instinctive affection left alone to its spontaneous workings, like a solitary flower breathing its fragrance upon snows? And how do we know but this, too, will close up its leaves, and fall before the touch of the invader? Then the last remnant of the man is no more. Or, if otherwise, must so many souls enter upon their immortality denuded of everything but the heart’s inmost and ruling love?

How specious and deceptive are natural appearances! What seemed to the outward eye the waning of existence, and the loss of faculties, is only locking them up successively, in order to keep them more secure. Old age, rather than death, answers strictly to the analogies of sleep. It is the gradual folding in and closing up of all the voluntary powers, after they have become worn and tired, that they may wake again refreshed and renovated for the higher work that awaits them. The psychological evidence is pretty full and decisive, that old age is sleep, but not decay. The reason lives, though its eye is temporarily closed; and some future day it will give a more perfect and pliant form to the affections. Memory remains, though its functions are suspended for a while. All its chambers may be exhumed hereafter, and their frescoes, like those of the buried temples at Meroë, will be found preserved in unfading colors. The whole record of our life is laid up within us; and only the overlayings of the physical man prevent the record from being always visible. The years leave their débris successively upon the spiritual nature, till it seems buried and lost beneath the layers. On the old man’s memory every period seems to have obliterated a former one; but the life which he has lived can no more be lost to him, or destroyed, than the rock-strata can be destroyed by being buried under layers of sand. In those hours when the bondage of the senses is less firm, and the life within has freer motion; or, in those hours of self-revelation, which are sometimes experienced under a clearer and more pervading light from above,—the past withdraws its veil; and we see, rank beyond rank, as along the rows of an expanding amphitheatre, the images of successive years, called out as by some wand of enchantment. There are abundant facts, which go to prove that the decline and forgetfulness of years are nothing more than the hardening of the mere envelopment of the man, shutting in the inmost life, which merely waits the hour to break away from its bondage.

De Quincey says: “I am assured that there is no such thing as forgetting possible to the mind. A thousand circumstances may and will interpose a veil between our present consciousness and the secret inscriptions of the mind; but alike, whether veiled or unveiled, the inscription remains forever; just as the stars seem to withdraw from the common light of day; whereas, we all know that it is the light which is drawn over them, as a veil, and that they are waiting to be revealed, when the obscuring daylight shall have withdrawn.”

The resurrection is the exact inverse of natural decay; and the former is preparing ere the latter has ended. The affections, being the inmost life, are the nucleus of the whole man. They are the creative and organific centre, whence are formed the reason and the memory, and thence their embodiment in the more outward form of members and organs. The whole interior mechanism is complete in the chrysalis, ere the wings, spotted with light, are fluttering in the zephyrs of morning. St. Paul, who, in this connection, is speaking specially of the resurrection of the just, presents three distinct points of contrast between the natural body and the spiritual. One is weak, the other is strong. One is corruptible, the other is incorruptible. One is without honor, the other is glorious. By saying that one is natural, and the other spiritual, he certainly implies that one is better adapted than the other to do the functions of spirit, and more perfectly to organize and manifest its powers. How clearly conceivable then is it that when man becomes free of the coverings of mere natural decay, he comes into complete possession of all that he is, and all that he has ever lived; that leaf after leaf in our whole book of life is opened backward, and all its words and letters come out in more vivid colors!

In the other life, therefore, appears the wonderful paradox that the oldest people are the youngest. To grow in age is to come into everlasting youth. To become old in years is to put on the freshness of perpetual prime. We drop from us the débris of the past, we breathe the ether of immortality, and our cheeks mantle with eternal bloom.


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