The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven’t changed in seventy or eighty years. Your body changes, but you don’t change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion.
— Doris Lessing
Age is such a weird concept.
Essentially it’s a number, but an extremely loaded one. It can mean so much, but at the same time it can mean nothing.
The strangest feeling for me is being transported back to different ages when I am with people from varying stages of my life. It’s not so much a physical feeling, but an emotional one. When I am with a friend from my primary school years, our topics of conversation and the way in which we talk hark back to those days. We find ourselves doing things we did then, using the vocabulary of the time (like Ace); we do and say things which neither of us would dream of doing or saying with our more recent friends. I can then move to another friend from my first years of teaching — and everything changes; my mindset, the way I talk, the things I say. I have no control, it just happens. It’s like a weird time-warp.
The perception of age is also confusing. When I was in Primary School, I had a number of teachers who, let’s be honest, I considered to be old; really old. Thirty (plus) years later, I came across these same teachers who were participating, with me, in a teacher professional development session. They were still teaching. My initial thoughts were: shouldn’t so-and-so be retired by now, and worse, wow — so-and-so isn’t dead yet!
I suppose as a child everyone older than you looks like they have one foot in the grave. However, it changed me in that I ceased to get offended when my own students played the guess your teacher’s age game, predicting that I was at least 55. (Wrong! That wouldn’t be so offensive now, at 46, but when I was 23 … that’s a different story.)
Comments about age abound: I feel like an 80-year old woman; mutton dressed up as lamb; you’re as young as you feel; I felt like a teenager again; she’s too old/young for that …
Age is one of those things everyone feels entitled to comment about; whether it be about themselves, or someone else. You never ask a woman her age, but feel free to make observations about it when she’s out of earshot.
Mark Twain said: Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
He was right, the problem is other people seem to mind.
But why should they?
If you do something, or dress a certain way, and it makes you feel good … what right do people have to judge you? Rather, they should be impressed you have the ability and the self-confidence to know what makes you happy, and to do what is right for you. (Oh boy — I have just realised I need to practise what I preach … that mutton dressed as lamb observation has passed through my lips on more than one occasion.)
It makes me boil when I hear people say so-and-so shouldn’t be working; she should be enjoying her retirement years. I’m sorry — but if working is what you enjoy, if you are still physically and mentally capable of it, if you do the job well (probably better than the young ‘uns) — then why shouldn’t you be allowed to continue?
I’ve never really understood people who bemoan the fact they have reached their 30s (or 40s … or 50s) or who hide their age from others. I personally don’t care whether people know my age or not; it’s a number. It’s what you do with your age that counts and that’s a little like self-fulfilling prophecy: if you believe your life is on the downhill slide because you have reached a certain milestone, then it will be.
My grandfather went down with Alzheimer’s. Up until his death (in his 90s) he was the fittest, most active person I knew. When we went for walks, I used to have to do a little jog-skip to keep up with him. His body was in fine condition; his mind was broken. We found it frustrating and unfair. I only hope he did not realise.
My grandmother, in her 90s, still has the most agile and active mind I know. Unfortunately, her body is broken in so many ways. She finds it frustrating. I find it frustrating and so … damn … unfair!
Which scenario is worse?
For me, it’s the active mind with the broken body. The spirit is willing, ‘Let’s do this, you’re still young,’, but the body says ‘Piss off, I’m old.’
Aging can bring wonderful things — experience, wisdom, a greater appreciation of life. We shouldn’t fight it; we should embrace it.
But, aging can also suck big time.