Ageing as a concept or topic of discussion is usually accompanied by rye undertones of sadness and degeneration. It is something we want to avoid, and those few who advocate embracing ageing often do so because they have surrendered to the inevitable role time plays on our bodies and minds. I have yet to meet a single person who really understands all that comes along with ageing, and yet looks forward to it. Accepting an eventuality happily and actually looking forward to it are two different things, two very different perspectives to look at the same outcome.
Of course it isn’t unfathomable why ageing isn’t something we look forward to. It means we’re a step closer to dying, and until we look forward to dying, we won’t look forward to ageing. Seems sane enough, after all. If you look forward to dying then you’re a masochist in society’s eyes. At the same time if you don’t want to age gracefully, that’s not appreciated either.
Societies induce age. People often induce age on themselves and on others of their age-group around them. Collectively, old people are known to behave a certain way, act crabby, not adapt to changes, give up and let go (because they’ve fought enough,and aahh they’re tired, and well this and that). So when middle-aged people approach seniority, they gradually involve themselves in this silent collective ageing movement. Societies, families not only accept this from their aged relatives, but also expect it and encourage it, because it’s simpler and less time-consuming to let people age and let go than it is to help them adapt to changes.
So the older people get biologically, the more of their chores are often handled by their younger relatives or their ever-willing house-help, even if old people are actually capable of doing those things themselves and even want to be self-sufficient. So in a bid to do more good, society collectively ends up doing more harm. Now of course I’m not advocating “not helping”, I’m just saying that help should be offered when actually required, help shouldn’t be forced onto people because their birthday cake suddenly has an extra candle.
What this forced (persuaded) help ends up doing is that it leaves old people with more free time than they want or can handle. So what do we all do in extra free time. We either get depressed or we introspect a lot or we contemplate life in general. Neither of the 3 are especially healthy habits, because they end up ageing us psychologically. And it is only when we age psychologically that we truly “grow old”. I’ve seen 82 year old women jogging on cold winter mornings, and I’ve seen 54 year old men too tired to walk a mile. It’s not always the body that gives up. More often than not the human body is more resilient than we give it credit for. “Mens agitat molem”; it’s the mind that really moves matter (matter of course being the human body in this context).
So how do we stay young at heart? Well, if we think about it a little, we all have a number in our minds, an age at which people are considered “old”. It may not be a specific number, more like a range. 65? 70?
But when life expectancy on an average was 40 years, 36 might have felt ancient. So what this tells us is that ageing is not absolute at all, but very relative. And that which is not absolute does not qualify for universal labeling. So if we stop viewing a certain age-bracket as old, we’d stay young at heart till we died. In the end it boils down to how we compare ‘who we are’ with ‘who we were’ and the visual this comparison creates in our mind.
One way to do this would be to not count the wrinkles and fine lines, to not sigh at our postures in grief as we bend a little, to not slouch when we’re bored out of a lack of things to do, to not have long gaps of inactivity, to not stop meeting people and doing our own shopping, to keep buying ourselves new gadgets and learn how to use them. Because honestly, young people aren’t always busier than old people, they’re just more occupied.
So this is my slightly-prescriptive-on-hindsight take on how to stay young at heart when our bodies start to show that they’re ageing.
Now if you don’t think it’s important to remain young at heart at all, then that’s another story (an interesting one all the same), but in that case “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is a great movie that just might change your mind.