Bertrand Russell: “How To Grow Old”


Perhaps no one has spoken more clearly on growing old than the great philosopher Bertrand Russell in his essay “How To Grow Old.”

The best way to overcome it [the fear of death]—so at least it seems to me—is to make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being. The man who, in old age, can see his life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death, since the things he cares for will continue. And if, with the decay of vitality, weariness increases, the thought of rest will not be unwelcome. I should wish to die while still at work, knowing that others will carry on what I can no longer do and content in the thought that what was possible has been done.

This is one of the most beautiful reflections on death I have found in all of world literature.

2 thoughts on “Bertrand Russell: “How To Grow Old”

  1. Not only is this a beautiful reflection on death, but one about life as well. The imagery evoked by the way that Russell describes an individual human existence as “like a river” is profound. There is no need for any invented religious or metaphysical jargon. Wonderful post!

  2. Thanks Jim. I have taken much comfort from Russell’s inisghts on this and have quoted them many times thru the years.

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