My friend David said – bending almost double as he waited to cross the road, ‘I am walking like an old man!’ ‘But then’, laughing, he said ‘I AM an old man!!’. He has recently had his 90th birthday and, still affected by a stroke earlier in the year, his physical infirmity is hardly surprising, but – and this is true for many of us – it still feels new for him, this business of being old. It can be one of the hardest things to come to terms with. ‘This old person is me!!’ : recognising the state of things, and knowing that they are unlikely to get any different. Worse even.
Being old can be hard work. I’ve written this before, but mental reflexes are decidedly sluggish. It’s annoying and can annoy others as you go through the difficult process of knowing what you want to say, finding the words with which to say it, and then saying them. (By which time the group you are conversing with have moved on to some other topic!). And then there are all the domestic things that take more time than they used to, like getting up in the morning and going to bed at night and thinking about the jobs that need doing in the house and the garden.
And then actually getting round to doing some of them. Slowly. Memory loss too of course – the biggest sign of old age, haunted by the fear that dementia or worse is round the corner.
Whereas we may try to hide from recognising how things are, other people see it plainly. You can see it their faces and in their attitude. I had an eye test this week and the young optician who had me at his mercy, was kind, efficient and professional and perhaps he speaks to all his clients in the same way, but he did make me feel that I had to be treated cautiously, as with a child. When I caught the bus the other day and handed the driver my credit card instead of my bus pass, he smiled in a tolerant way as if used to dealing with old people.
And then there’s that truth-telling moment when on a crowded bus a young person offers you their seat. Once I felt offended; now I accept.
Its Advent time and Christmas approaches. My wife and I are celebrating old friendships, sending and receiving greetings and thereby being reminded – ‘recognising’ –the years of our lives. If finding myself old is a surprise, part of it to be reminded of the energy and – well I’ll be bold – achievements of the past. It hasn’t always been as it is now and the challenge I guess is to aim to do a bit of achieving still.