This is a ready phrase, quickly spouted as the older of us look frustratingly at the mess of the world. It sounds positive and rather optimistic. But is it really forward-looking? Dorothy Sayers says no in her book Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World.
There is a popular school of thought (or, more strictly, of feeling) which violently resents the operation of Time upon the human spirit. It looks upon age as something between a crime and an insult. Its prophets have banished from their savage vocabulary all such words as “adult,” mature,” ” experienced,” “venerable”; they know only snarling and sneering epithets like “middle-aged,” “elderly,” “stuffy,” “senile,” and “decrepit.” With these they flagellate that which they themselves are, or must shortly become, as though abuse were and incantation to exorcise the inexorable. Theirs is neither the thoughtless courage that “makes mouths at the invisible event,” nor the reasoned courage that forsees the event and endures it; still less is it the ecstatic courage that embraces and subdues the event. It is the vicious and desperate furry of a trapped beast; and it is not a pretty sight.
Such men, finding no value for the world as it is, proclaim very loudly their faith in the future, “which is in the hands of the young.” With this flattery they bind their own burden on the shoulders of the next generation. For their own failures, Time alone is to blame – not Sin, which is expiable, but Time, which is irreparable. From the relentless reality of age they seek escape into a fantasy of youth – their own or other people’s. … Their faith is not really in the future, but in the past. Paradoxical as it may seem, to believe in youth is to look backward; to look forward, we must believe in age.
“To look forward, we must believe in age.” Time alone, the time of the future and of youth, will not heal us of the wounds of our sins. The work of the “aged” (whatever definition you give to that) is to accept our complicity in the messes made and make our contribution to the things done and left undone. To really look forward we must not pawn off our mistakes to be shouldered by others yet to come, but believe in this time, older though we have become, in order to courageously and humbly face the world of our making.
Older age is no escape from responsibility. It is not being 65 and passing the baton to the younger who will pay our Social Security and solve our cultural and national problems. Those of us who have entered into these years are required to bring adult thinking to the table and the courage that has been honed over the years by trial, temptation and overwhelming odds.