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Awake with age

"Years do not make sages. They make only old men."

So sayeth a New England almanac of yesteryear as quoted by Jill Lepore in The New Yorker.

If you are an elder or on your way to becoming one, this is discouraging news. You would like to think the mounting aches, pains, and pills would be compensated by wisdom.

But maybe words like "wisdom" and "sage" set the bar too high.

Maybe what the years teach you is how to stop making a fool of yourself, a lesson Donald Trump has failed to learn.

The Buddha was asked "Who are you?" He answered "I am the one who woke up."

"Woke up" doesn't sound like much -- until you realize what it entails. Recognizing how much of life is pure illusion in which the circus comes to town every day, leaves, and is replaced by another circus, the great wheel of repetition.

How long have Alaskans been imploring the oil companies to build a gas line? Or demanding that Congress open ANWR?

Not that repetition always is unpleasurable. Ronnie Spector's voice has made the hair on the back of my neck stand up for 50 years. When she leads the Ronettes in "Be My Baby," she's singing to me, right?

If you learn anything of enduring value by age 60, tolerance, acceptance, forgiveness should be near the top of the list. People are who they are, and you have to take them the way they show up unless they are a career criminal or the president of the International Monetary Fund.

During my years as editorial page editor, "show up" was literal. Often enough, the newsroom receptionist would come into my office and say "Mr. Carey, there's a man in the lobby with a large box of documents. He's not leaving until he talks to you."

And so I would walk downstairs to find out all about the unfairness of the man's divorce, his beef with the Veteran's Administration or a judge's erroneous ruling in a lawsuit that has been under appeal for 10 years.

Wearying, I told a visitor I know well -- and like very much -- "Why don't you just let go, give it up, move on to life's next stage?" He replied in high decibels "I am a Greek. I must have justice."

Justice? If you find it, to quote that aging icon Rod Stewart, "I don't object if you call collect."

There's relief in letting go, renunciation. And I know that for sure because I spent a large part of my life as one of those people in the lobby with a box of grievances. What freedom lies in not caring any more -- in walking away from the box. Maybe you won't become a sage, but you will live more comfortably in your own skin even if your skin is old enough to collect Social Security.

-- Michael Carey