We talked a while back about one of the most inspiring lessons of Seneca’s life: that’s it’s not too late for anyone. This was a man who lost his twenties to illness, lost close to a decade of his life to exile, and then in old age was forced into a painful retirement which he turned into one of the most productive writing sprints of his life.
Well, it happens that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has a poem about this very idea—that no matter what has happened, no matter who we are, there is still time to become a better person or do our best work. In fact, this beautiful poem was written when Longfellow himself was quite old—well into the decline that every person experiences—and celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of his college graduation.
It is too late! Ah, nothing is too late
Till the tired heart shall cease to palpitate.
Cato learned Greek at eighty; Sophocles
Wrote his grand Oedipus, and Simonides
Bore off the prize of verse from his compeers,
When each had numbered more than fourscore years,
And Theophrastus, at fourscore and ten,
Had but begun his “Characters of Men.”
Chaucer, at Woodstock with the nightingales,
At sixty wrote the Canterbury Tales;
Goethe at Weimar, toiling to the last,
Completed Faust when eighty years were past.
These are indeed exceptions; but they show
How far the gulf-stream of our youth may flow
Into the arctic regions of our lives,
Where little else than life itself survives.
The point is: A Stoic doesn’t give up. A Stoic doesn’t resign themselves to lower standards or expect less of themselves. A Stoic doesn’t ever really grow old—because they refuse to accept that limitation. Instead, they remain active, they push themselves, they keep their minds sharp.
No matter how old you are, this attitude would do you well. There is no time like the present. It is not too late. The gulf-stream of youth is still strong within you—if you choose to let it be. Keep yourself young. Don’t let yourself harden.
It’s not too late. Nothing is too late… if you choose to see it that way. You still have time. So much time.