Growing old is unavoidable
THE destructive effects of the passage of years are observable in one’s own body. As the years go by, the body, the most precious possession a human being has, goes through an irreversible process of destruction. The changes a human being experiences throughout his life are recounted in the Qur’an as follows: “It is Allah Who created you in a state of (helpless) weakness, then gave (you) strength after weakness, then, after strength, gave (you) weakness and a hoary head: He creates as He wills, and it is He Who has all knowledge and power.” (Qur’an, 30:54)
The later years of life are the times most neglected in the future plans of an adult, except in the anxious process of saving for old-age pensions. Indeed, being too close to death, people usually develop a hesitant approach to this period. When someone tries to talk about old age, others feel concerned and attempt to change this “unpleasant” topic as soon as possible. The routine of daily life is also a good way of escaping from the thought of these potentially miserable years of life. So, it is postponed until the day one inevitably meets it. No doubt, the main reason for such avoidance is the assumption that one has endless time until death comes upon one.
This mistaken idea often leads to great grief. That is simply because, no matter how old one is, the only real possessions remaining from one’s past are dimly-recalled memories. One barely remembers childhood. It is even hard to recall exactly what happened during the last decade. The greatest ambitions of a young man, important decisions, and the goals to which he is most committed, all lose their significance once they are experienced and done. That is why to tell a “long” life story is a vain endeavor.
Whether a teenager or an adult, this should prompt man to make an important decision about his life. For instance, if you are 40 and expect to live until your mid-sixties — and of that you have no guarantee — those remaining 25 years will surely pass as quickly as the preceding 40 years. The same holds true even if your life is prolonged a great deal, since the remaining thirty or forty years will, likewise, pass before you even notice. This is, surely, a perpetual reminder of the true nature of this world. One day every living soul on this earth will leave this world and there is no return.
Hence, man should set aside his prejudices and be more realistic about his life. Time passes very quickly and each day brings on further physical weakness and more impaired thinking rather than fresher dynamism and a younger figure. In brief, growing old is a manifestation of man’s inability to control his own body, life and destiny. Time’s adverse effects on the body become visible during this period. Allah informs us about this in the following verse: “It is Allah Who creates you and takes your souls at death; and of you there are some who are sent back to a feeble age, so that they know nothing after having known (much); for Allah is All-Knowing, All-Powerful.” (Qur’an, 16:70)
In medicine, advanced old age is also called “the second childhood”. Hence, during this latter stage of life, elderly people just like children need care, since their bodily and mental functions go through certain alterations.
As one grows older, physical and spiritual characteristics pertaining to childhood become more apparent. Elderly people fail to do many tasks requiring physical strength. Changes in judgment, impaired thinking, difficulties in walking, maintaining balance and speech, impediments, memory impairment and gradual memory loss, and changes in mood or behavior are only a few symptoms of diseases commonly seen in old age.
In short, after a certain period, people often regress to a state of childish dependency both physically and mentally. Life both begins and ends in an infant-like state. This is evidently not a random process. It is possible that man could remain young until he dies. Yet Allah reminds man about the temporary nature of this world by making the quality of his life deteriorate at certain stages of life. This process serves as a clear reminder that life is slipping away.
Allah explains this matter in the verse below: “O mankind! If you have doubt about the Resurrection, (consider) that We created you out of dust, then out of a drop, then out of a leech-like clot, then out of a morsel of flesh, partly formed and partly unformed, in order that We may manifest (Our power) to you; and We cause whom We will to rest in the wombs for an appointed term, then We bring you out as babes, then (foster you) that you may reach your age of full strength; and some of you are called to die, and some are sent back to the feeblest old age, so that they know nothing after having known (much), and (further), you see the earth barren and lifeless, but when We pour rain down on it, it is stirred (to life), it swells, and it puts forth every kind of beautiful growth (in pairs).” (Qur’an, 22:5)
Growing old is unavoidable. Nobody, without exception, can escape it. Yet seeing celebrities becoming older has a deeper influence on us since their physical deterioration is openly observable. Witnessing the ageing of people renowned for their fame, wealth and beauty is surely a reminder of the shortness and insignificance of this life.
Every day it is possible to observe this fact from hundreds of examples around us. An intelligent, healthy and famous person, once a symbol of beauty or success, one day appears in newspapers, magazines and on television with a physical or mental disability. Each one is the clearest evidence that no matter how beautiful, successful or young you are, the inevitable end for human beings is old age.
Yet, only the body experiences this irreversible process and eventually dies. The soul, on the other hand, lives forever. The only asset one can take with him when one dies is one’s belief or disbelief.
The way to avoid eternal punishment, win eternal bliss and attain the good pleasure of Allah is apparent: Before it is too late, have true faith in Allah and spend your life doing good deeds to attain His good pleasure.
The writer has authored more than 300 books translated in 73 languages on politics, religion and science.