Oh flip we get older. I know it’s pants but we do it anyway. We can’t seem to avoid it, for all the techniques we employ. We keep fit, laugh often, love much, that sort of stuff but still the memory lapses and the body dithers. Mostly we laugh about it, in front of other people anyway, and mostly we can hold that sense of fun as we fight our way to the outside of a king-sized duvet cover, grab both corners to shake the feathered mountain flat only to collapse onto the bed wheezing like granny’s old bellows. Till now, we never thought about granny’s old bellows much, nor the sound they made as we, young then, pumped gusto into her wet coal, lifting flames into life with our supple arms, sure of an even larger slice of pound cake as reward. Now, the body remembers that sound and is upset that we are making it, sans bellows.
We remember granny. As we flitted through her high-topped halls, in full play with skates for feet and ghosties round every corner, we remember her for we are granny now. We watch her smile as we now smile at skidding children full of laughter and sunbeams.
I notice that even mentioning the process of aging brings on a flapping of hands and a mouthful of compliments. Oh but you look so young, for one, and, another, You’re as young as you feel, and yet I leave feeling exactly the same age as I did before the Let’s Not Talk About Nasty Things thing. Oh, for a minute or two I could imagine the skates on my feet and yes my heart did twinkle a bit, but what I wanted to do was to have a conversation of some depth and with some contextual relevance to where I am/they are in life. Aging is not a nasty thing, per se, but merely something we all have coming and it seems to me that the way most folk deal with it is by not looking at it. Not looking at the inevitable is to turn away from the truth in all its beauty. Not looking forward sounds a lot to me like I am looking back, at what has gone, at what is lost to me. I am in No Man’s Land, neither here nor there, stranded on a sandbank without my dancing shoes, without my head on straight. I am blind and deaf to who I am, to the truth of me in all my beauty.
As we mutter about how dreadful it is to watch an old (that’s OLD) person decline into the apparent powerlessness of a failing body and mind, we lose sight of that person, however dear, however important they have been to us, for they have changed. This dynamic person to whom we bowed, either in terror or in a loving adoration, is losing the plot and we have no map for the new one. Is this, I wonder, why we flap and giggle at any mention of getting old? is it that we see our own self becoming this poor sad creature? My third question is this. If we face with pride and humour our own aging process, might we find the last bit somewhat happier to contemplate…..or, even better, might we, by walking with it rather than away from it, actually change the future of getting old?
I am not saying Never Wear Your Tutu again. I am not saying Stop Dancing, Enjoying Wine or Bouncing on the Family Trampoline. What I AM saying is that when you forget a name or a number, or your wallet or what you had for lunch, find laughter in it. I am saying engage with aging for it is a lovely and exciting time. It is also a time to allow for a slowing of pace, for the inevitable decline of our physical selves, for twinges in the back, sore feet, aching knees just before it rains. We might feel less inclined to go out at night, more unsure of creating a meal for guests, less able to see the cobwebs in the corners. We might need to ask for help from the young, as once we were asked for help.
We have stories to tell and our children want to hear them; not that old nonsense about how good it was in the olden days, not that, but stories of our lives, what we loved, how we danced in virgin snow, how we could outrun a deer, how we sailed across oceans, won first prize, fell into a smelly pond and had to walk 3 miles home, how we didn’t get picked for the rugby team and how we sulked for weeks, how jealous we were of an older sister, and that crush we had on the maths teacher that all went horribly wrong when his wife read your note. All of this, is who we are, who we still are. But let it not be the only country we inhabit.
The sickness queue is a long one and many of the ailments begin in our minds. Depression meds are dished out like sweeties. Yes, we would rather not be getting rickety-sticks or fluffy-headed, but we are and that’s that. I don’t think that’s the problem at all. I believe that, in not engaging with the aging process, of flapping it away, of living in fear of the future, of ending up like that OLD person who has become a sad soul, we manifest the whole thing in ourselves. Mourning what can never be again takes the joy from life. Have you watched a young woman run for a bus and just watched her with a smile? Or have you immediately related her speed to your lack of it, feeling even more sorebones-and-downmouth? How much youth can you observe without feeling even older?
And yet the watching IS the joy.
Turning to look ahead when you don’t want to see what you fear takes courage, but, trust me, the monsters are quite gone, once you do – oh, and I’ll be there to welcome you in my tutu and a big jumper on to keep out the cold with spares for you in case you forgot your own.