When you are over seventy…

…someone said to me , ‘you don’t stay up until midnight to see the new year in’. However asleep by eleven, but then woken up by the fireworks, he reluctantly found himself awake to greet the New Year anyway. Is it just a question of stamina? Or is it that younger people have more investment in the future than older ones, and not only are wide awake to greet a new year but go on doing so, some of them (one of whom I know very well), until breakfast! Optimism versus pessimism? Is that what distinguishes the young from the old?

One of the cult series on the BBC over the last few years has been programmes in which ‘Grumpy’ men and women moan about all sorts of things which annoy them. Jonathan Freedland, the Guardian political columnist, was saying this week that he doesn’t want to be one of ‘this glum, slouching chorus.’ He feels however the tug of it is getting stronger all the time – especially because he will soon be one of them, he claims. He is 40 next month (which of course isn’t old at all, hardly even mature, as many of us know, and as one day he will discover).

Freedland agrees that there is plenty to be glum about as we enter 2007, and he identifies many of the crises in the world which threaten to grow worse, such as global warming, the mass killings and raping in Darfur, the carnage in Iraq, the civil strife in Palestine. These don’t stop as we merely exchange one calendar for another and as he says, they can’t be swept aside as if they don’t matter.

But then he goes on to identify some of the signs of hope that like green shoots are emerging from the blackened earth, such as the political changes in the U.S.A., the anticipated resignation of Tony Blair and a new administration probably with Gordon Brown, both leaders of the Opposition in the U.K. talking about important issues.

And then there is the leftward trend in Central and South America and the possibility of new leadership in Europe. He concludes ‘there are reasons to be cheerful after all’.

I am reading a book about the importance of dialogue at the moment. We need a conversation between the young and the old – the hopeful and the grumpy. The grumpy ones – if that’s what being old involves – recognise the dangers of a superficial optimism that ignores what’s really going on in the world. And the young ones can tell us to stop dwelling on the past and to face a future which indeed just because it is tomorrow and not yesterday, can give all of us ‘reasons to be cheerful’ .