One of the hardest things about getting older is having to come to terms with the inescapable physical changes that the years inflict on you. There will be all sorts of medical explanations to do with physical deterioration, brain cells coming to the end of their time, bones getting weaker; but the visible effects of ageing can be depressing (if they are your own) and surprising when you see how they effect other people.
I was at a regional meeting of people of my own profession this week and amongst the hundred or so of us, there were quite a few retired people, some of whom were at college at the same time as me. We gravitated towards each other at the lunch break, catching up on news, reflecting on how things had changed since we started out on our work, and all the time doubtless noticing what the ravages of time had done to us!
The thing that interested me was how some people were immediately recognisable, especially their voices, the cadencies of their speech and the things they talked about, reminiscent of fifty years ago when we were sorting out the world in general and the Church in particular.
Suddenly we were students again. ‘The years rolled back’, as they say. Of course we were older, our faces lined, some of us with hearing problems, all of us happy to trade stories of what we are doing with our lives as people with few responsibilities now but still with a sense of vocation.
But then there were others who were quite unrecognisable. One of them– cheerfully boasting that he had ‘two new hips and several other additions’ – was like a complete stranger. He knew me (which was encouraging) but even when he told me his name I failed to find any physical connection with the 25 year old I once knew. Perhaps if we had talked for longer the situation would have changed.
I was looking at a video the other day of a holiday we spent last summer and I watched this old man walking around somewhat unsteadily and seeming to be a little outside his group, and realised of course that it was me.
Age becomes a sort of costume drama in which you are still you, but are wearing the clothes that belong to someone else. Nothing we can do about it. ‘Mustn’t grumble’ a neighbour said to me today. O.K. But it is a curiosity, this process of ageing .