"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." So says Jacques in Shakespeare's "As You Like It." Those oft quoted lines, known by every school child, put us as actors in the great cosmic plan written by some unknown cosmic force.

But while the first two lines of Jacques's soliloquy are the most famous, the real meat of the soliloquy is found in the definition of the seven ages of a man's life -- the puking infant, the whining schoolboy, the sighing lover, the honorable soldier, the sated justice, the foolish pantaloon, the failing aged.

Now I've been thinking about those seven ages a great deal these days. First, I tried to place myself. I've settled on the sated justice stage -- "In fair round belly with good capon lined, With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, full of wise saws and modern instances; and so he plays his part." "OK," my wife says, "drop the wise `saws' part and I'll buy it."

But it is an examination of the last age of a man's life that intrigued me most right now. Here Shakespeare defines the man as being in the "Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history. Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

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And frankly, I'm frightened as I think of it. Not because of the people I've seen who have grown old and frail or the stories I have heard of friends with parents or grandparents with Alzheimer's disease or the elderly I have seen struggling to retain their youth. Nor because of projecting myself into that state. No, not because of any of that.

No, I'm not frightened by thinking of myself as being "sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." Really, that doesn't frighten me. I have enough self confidence and self esteem to know that the me of me has nothing to do with physical appearance, physical capacity or personal possessions.

What frightens me, frankly what scares the living crap out of me, is how many men and women while in the honorable soldier or sated justice stage of their lives have engendered a disrespect for those at the end of their histories.

When President Obama promoted his health care agenda, conservatives and religious zealots cried aloud about imagined "death committees." Their inflammatory language obscured the real issue and the real point of fright.

Now, Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee is proposing taking a hard look at health care for those "sans everything" in the name of fiscal responsibility. And following suit, liberals are screaming in equally inflammatory language about the position Tea Party and right wing conservative are taking. And that too is obscuring the real point of fright.

I want to curse and swear. And I am struggling to find polite language to express myself. But @#&%@! do we Americans realize that we have lost all honor, all respect, all pride, all wisdom when we look to those at the end of their lives as a group to toy with by policy and prejudice and price of care.

I know that sure as there is a hell I didn't teach my kids to treat the elderly with disregard. And I hope that I have taught them that when they see someone sans anything they take from their substance and give. And I hope too that they sit at the knee of the old and infirm and hold them near and dear. It is the old that give us the chance to learn of history's great lies.

If the world's stage were as I would like it, the players in the final act of the world's play would be those for whom we stand to applaud shouting bravo, brava when the curtain falls. Too many players, I fear, simply want the stage to fall to dark. That's not how Shakespeare wrote it. That's not how I would like it.