I have written about growing older before on this blog. Since the last time, I am of course a little older, so consider this an update. I was recently reminded by an old and close friend, that I had never expected to see sixty. After decades of shift work, stressful jobs, heavy smoking, and a bad diet, I felt sure that I would be carried off by one illness or another, by my late fifties. I imagined my sudden departure being spoken about by friends and colleagues, in the way that these things are discussed. “Did you hear about Pete?” “No, really? And he was only 57.” “Yes, that’s no age these days.” But it didn’t happen. I woke up on my sixtieth birthday, and every day since. I had to learn to cope with getting older, which came as a complete surprise, not least to me.
There are the usual things that come with age. Looking for reading glasses for ages, then discovering that they were on your head all the time. Ransacking the entire house for door-keys, only to find them hanging in the lock, an hour later. The old favourite; walking into a different room, then forgetting why you went in there in the first place, and taking just that little bit longer to remember names, faces, and places. You soon realise that you don’t need to watch the weather forecast, to know when it’s going to rain. Your joints will burn and ache for no good reason, long before the dark clouds appear. It is as if your body has become a barometer, and the falling pressure is registered in your very bones.
When you are young, you always think that it will be different for you. You won’t be like the old people of your youth, or talk or behave anything like your own parents. But you will, to some degree at least. You will hear yourself saying things that echo from the past, catching yourself momentarily, thinking you might have already said this or that before. Then the realisation sets in. It was what old people used to say, and now you are saying it. Most young people begin to seem either lazy, or impatient. Their attention span is limited, their desire to learn absent, and their ambition minimal. This cannot be true of all of them of course, it is just how you see it. But sweeping generalisations are a comfort of being older. You can state them, and leave them hanging to be challenged.
And everything was better ‘back then’. Food was tastier, families were closer, everyone felt safer, and you could walk in and out of jobs at will. Even the summers were sunnier, and it seemed that you never had to worry about anything. It’s not true of course, at least not for everyone. But your mind helps you to come to terms with the inadequacies of ageing, by reminding you that you once had it good, very good. Of course, the ‘now’ can be even better. No work to go to, time on your hands, places to explore, thoughts to dwell on, and pleasures to pursue. It seems, at least to me, that the key is to forget about the numbers, and to stop seeing age as a definition of yourself. You wake up, do what you can do, and make the most of it. Enjoy the freedom, and take advantage of the wisdom and experience.
But it’s not that easy, is it?
Everyday life defines you by age. Fill in a form, and you will see a place for age. I am currently in the 55-64 category. The next one up is 65+, the upper figure undefined. Concessions are given once you exceed a certain age, and you begin to wish away some precious years, waiting for that state pension that you paid into for so long, or frustratingly anticipating a bus pass that you haven’t even used. Whether you like it or not, you become very interested in age. The news seems to be full of people dying. Actors, celebrities, politicians, all mentioned for their contributions. If their age is not mentioned, I immediately look them up, to see when they were born. Quickly working out whether or not they were older than me when they died. This strange behaviour extends to the living as well. Seeing someone pop up in a film, or TV interview, I will exclaim “Are they still alive? I thought they would be dead by now.” Without hesitation, I will look up their age on the Internet, and make some pointless comment about how well they have aged, or not, as the case may be. One of the things about getting older, is that you can develop an unhealthy interest in the ages of everyone around you.
Then there is the perception of others. Something that I heard a lot in the past, especially from my Mum, was that you don’t really age inside, and still believe yourself to be young at heart. I am not so sure that’s always true, but it does come as a shock, the first time someone thinks that you are older than you are. Even if they say that they think you are younger, often by a good few years, your first instinct is to think that they are being kind. But when they add a few years, you can be shocked, and begin to wonder how they came to that conclusion. At the windmill recently, I was happily chatting to an older lady, a fellow volunteer, for a while. When the subject of pensions came up, she expressed surprise that I wasn’t yet old enough to receive my state pension. (It is paid when I am 65) I told her that I was still only 63, and asked her how old she thought I was. She casually remarked, “about 67.”
That is only four years older than I am now, but it is a huge difference in perception, at least from where I was standing!
So there are lots of things to consider about getting older; a lot more than I ever thought there would be, as I didn’t still expect to be here. I might make this an occasional series, I’m not sure. Younger readers might rightly consider that there is little of interest for them here, but I have a suggestion. Print it off, seal it in an envelope, and write ‘To be opened on… (add date of your 60th birthday).’
You can then use it like an instruction manual.