A friend, who for years led African safaris, recently give me a rungu. This is a short, carved wooden staff carried by elder men of the Samburu tribe of north-central Kenya. It is a symbol of authority and honor. When a man reaches an age when he finds it difficult to go on a hunting party, he trades his weapons for a rungu. Now, rather than lend his physical strength for the well-being of the tribe, he lends his wisdom and experience.
Age is a great thief. The passing years steal the things we had found important in our lives and takes away the ways we had defined ourselves. From women, it steals fertility and youthful beauty. From men, it robs our physical strength and erodes our definition of ourselves as powerful and self-sufficient in the world.
Loss is inevitable. Age takes its toll no matter how strong or smart or handsome you are now. As I’ve gotten older my body has grown softer, my muscles weaker. I’ve had to realize that I can no longer lift heavy objects I could have easily lifted just a few years ago. And I now must pay younger men to do chores I would have relished. With my wrinkles and grey hair, people treat me differently than they did just a few years ago. I recently underwent the embarrassment of having a young woman offer me her seat on the crowded subway. I refused.
Like most men, when younger, I defined myself by what I had or could do—the activities I could accomplish, the knowledge I could offer, my position, and the esteem I had earned in the eyes of my peers. The relevance of these things is on the wane. No longer a “manly” man — as if I ever was one — I have been forced to redefine myself. I now characterize myself more by who I am, rather than what I have or am able to accomplish. Who I am, the accomplishments by which I now define myself, are more inner than outer—what wisdom I have been able to glean, the love I am able to give and receive, the service I am able to offer.
My advice to men as they grow older is, don’t be shy. Look Father Time in the face. He will take from you what he will. Let go with peace and acceptance of how you had defined yourself when you were younger. Don’t mourn the past. Enjoy you as you are now. The passing years can offer precious gifts. Welcome and appreciate them.
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