“Every age of life has its own characteristics: boys are feeble, youths in their prime are aggressive, middle-aged men are dignified, old people are mature. Each one of these qualities is ordained by nature for harvesting in due season.” Cicero, On Old Age III
You know you’re middle-aged when you read Cicero and realize that you lack the physical prowess to be aggressive, and the wisdom to be mature.
But there’s a problem. You don’t experience yourself as, well, dignified.
In fact you know that not far below the surface is the guy that sings crazy songs in the shower, and can break wind with the best of them. The very word ‘dignified’ is a little scary, conjuring images of your teachers, or the parents of your friends.
Then you realize that you are a teacher, and a parent. But you still struggle to associate yourself with the word dignified.
Yet Cicero is surely right. Each stage not only has its own qualities, but should, through patient cultivation, progress beyond the one that preceded it. Middle-age calls for being dignified—from the Latin word meaning worthy. Young people are looking to you, and they should see a person who is growing worthy of some rather serious titles: parent, mentor, uncle, etc.
While not yet quite mature—that will require even more work—the middle-aged should be taking on roles that are especially significant in the community, and doing so with dignity. Such is their burden, their calling, their honor.
So if the season of middle-age is to bear its due fruit, we may need to stretch beyond that for which we feel ready, striving to be worthy to fulfill our place in life, and in the lives of those around us.
And perhaps being dignified in this most important sense, growing in character and wisdom through fulfilling these roles, will be the final step toward being truly mature.
Cicero (106-43 B.C.) is the great Roman statesman, orator, and philosopher.
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