[Viewpoint] Growing old with grace and wisdom

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[Viewpoint] Growing old with grace and wisdom

A few years ago, the U.S. newsmagazine Time named 10 Americans who were “aging gracefully.”

The men’s list included former Secretary of State Colin Powell and actor Robert Redford, who were both born in 1937, and master investor Warren Buffett, who was born in 1930. Domestic goddess Martha Stewart, folk singer and peace and human rights activist Joan Baez, both born in 1941; Nobel Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison, born in 1931; and Sandra Day O’Connor, who resigned from the Supreme Justice to care for her husband who has Alzheimer’s, were the women aging gracefully.

Who will make the list of top ten Koreans aging gracefully?

I bet that no politician would be able to make the list. It’s not easy to find a businessman who deserves mention. There is no one like Buffett in Korean business.

A few artists can be included. Stage actresses Park Jeong-ja and Son Suk, musicians Lee Gang-suk and Shin Su-jeong, and traditional musicians Hwang Byeong-gi and An Suk-seon are some of them. However, they themselves might not admit they are aging gracefully.

But the fact is, I do know a Korean man who is truly aging gracefully.

He is not famous and he did not live life under the spotlight. But since 1973, Kim Deok-hwang has been the father of adoptees.

He started as a sapling - a mere 58 years old. Born in Uiju, North Pyeongan Province, North Korea, in 1915, Kim worked as a civil servant and raised five sons and one daughter. In addition to his biological children, he adopted three war orphans who had lost their parents or had been abandoned.

When he retired as the Deputy Interior Minister in 1967, he found a new calling in assisting orphanages through children’s aid organizations such as the Korean Crusaders Federation. In 1973, he founded the Eastern Social Welfare Society and helped 60,000 children find new parents and families. For 36 years, he had held each child in his arms and said the prayer, “I am letting go of another wounded little soul. Please bless and protect this one.”

Jeong Seung-ho’s poem “Spring Road” reflects Kim’s life. “He becomes the road when the road ends. He becomes the spring road and walks to eternity. He is remembered as love when love ends. He becomes love and walks to infinity.”

Blessed by Kim’s prayer, 45,000 children were adopted abroad and 15,000 domestically. Kim opened the spring road of love, aging in the most graceful and beautiful fashion.

Here are Roger Rosenblatt’s recommendations in his book, “Rules for Aging”:

You should let bad things pass and be wary of praise. It is better to fight than be lonely. Don’t change more than one-eighth of your life at once. Apologize and reconcile first. And offer your help.

Ayako Sono wrote in “A Note of Admonition to the Old,” to mentally approve of your life all the time.

She advised not to complain, not to be jealous of youth and think how to make your life better, not to expect others to do favors for you and not to poke your nose into somebody else’s business. Also, as you grow older, you should refrain from talking about the past and grow accustomed to entertaining yourself.

We all get old. It is not something to deplore. Decent aging is more impressive than youth.

When you get old, time will give you something you would never be able to know when you are young.

The important thing is how you age.

May is the month of new life and youth. Before the season of youth passes by, it is worthwhile sparing some time to think about aging and life.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Jin-hong
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