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Wise Words


Inspirational thoughts selected by Helen Nearing


Old age is one of the most unexpected of all things that happen to man.
Leon Trotsky Diary in Exile 1929

Every man desires to live long, but no one would be old.
Jonathan Swift Miscellanies 1740

Few people know how to be old.
François de la Rochefaucauld 1664

I am old, yet I look at wise men and see that I am very young. I look over those stars yonder, and into the myriads of the aspirant and ordered souls, and see I am a stranger and a youth and have yet my spurs to win. Too ridiculous are these airs of age.
Ralph Waldo Emerson Journal 1847

I quite love my present age [he was 56] - the compensations, the advantages of it - the simplifications of freedom, independence, memories. But I don’t keep it long enough. It passes too quickly.
Henry James (remark to a young woman) 1899

In my old age there is a coming into flower. My body wanes; my mind waxes.
Victor Hugo (in a letter) January 7, 1869

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.
Henry Ford 1940

In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy, sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.
Edith Wharton

We who are old know that age is more than a disability. It is an intense and varied experience, almost beyond our capacity at times, but something to be carried high.
Florida Scott-Maxwell The Measure of My Days 1968

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
George Bernard Shaw Art and Public Money 1907

Development can indeed continue beyond childhood and youth, beyond the seventies. It can continue until the very end of life, given purposes that challenge and use our human abilities. . . . In sum, our development does not necessarily end at any age. We can continue to develop in our eighties even to our nineties.
Betty Friedan The Fountain of Age 1993

Michaelangelo did some of his best painting when past 80; Goethe wrote when past 80; Edison was still inventing at 92. . . . Frank Lloyd Wright at 90 was considered the most creative architect; Shaw was still writing plays at 90; Grandma Moses began painting at 79, etc., etc.
Dr. Maxwell Naltz Psycho-Cybernetics 1966

A person of sixty can grow as much as a child of six. The later years are a time for self-development, emancipation, a spiritual growth.
Gay Gaer Luce Your Second Life 1979

Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we are born.
Albert Einstein The Human Side

As I approve of a Youth that has something of the Old Man in him, so I am no less pleased with an Old Man that has something of the Youth.

From Light on Aging and Dying, by Helen Nearing. Copyright © 1995 by Helen Nearing. Excerpted by arrangement with Harvest Books. $10. Available in local bookstores, or call 800-543-1918, or click here.