…said one of my nearest and dearest. She went on, ‘you’ve been saying that you are old for years and now it’s true’. The plain message which if not stated but certainly hinted at, was that there should be no more talk about being old. Does that imply ‘old’ is an estate, a condition that can be defined, immutable, a goal which I had now reached. ‘Talk about something else’ was the hidden inference, which is good advice.
But of course ‘old’ is not like that : a fixed state of being, once realised defining you as a new person. Instead like most things it is a relative experience. One hears of people who at an advanced age are amazingly alert and mentally aware and I have mentioned some whom I know in these blogs. There are others who are ‘old’ at sixty and seem to have given up the hunger for life. I deliberately hold on to the theme of these blogs -‘ageing’-, reluctant to use the word ‘elderly’ for that too suggests a condition, preferring to describe what we are thinking about and many of us experiencing, as a process, not a junction without an exit.
I seem to have met a lot of people recently who have complained about being old and clearly I am in danger of becoming one of them. It’s no help to anyone to say to a younger person ( and I’ve heard it said ), ‘don’t get old’ . Despite that gloomy prognosis, there are many good prospects about the latter years. Constant complaint about the demerits doesn’t win friends.
I was talking to a colleague whose 78th birthday is today. He has had two heart bypasses and is now suffering from Parkinson’s disease which medication holds in check. He has managed a full sized allotment for over 40 years and is still doing so. He is a constant source of encouragement and quiet advice to those of us doing the same but without the difficulties he has.
Talking to him yesterday, we discovered we were the same age, and exchanged experiences. We agreed that the difference between acknowledging physical limitations and managing them can be two different things. We are the same persons we have been since birth and the will and desire to live are just as they have always been. But somehow we have to balance desire with reality, infinite intention with limited capacity. It’s a challenge and one we accept if not exactly welcome.
So, I agree, less talk about being old and more about the continued journey of ageing, facing if not resolving this creative tension between what we can do about it and what we can’t.