growing old?

A meditation on growing old

Being old, growing old, was there ever an age that observes itself with such bewilderment. It is true that the adolescent is confused about itself, one minute a child the next beset with feelings that confuse excite and bother, he is deeply concerned about his place in his peer group of what his friends think of him, but he also has a certainty that there is all the time in the world to make his or her mark. The young mother in turn frustrated and delighted by motherhood spends hours contemplating work/home dilemmas and tensions, but she isn’t confused about her place on the chronological scale. A man bored or elated by his job might question his status in relationship to his peer group, but not his mortality.

It is a rare marriage or partnership that hasn’t at one time or another found itself experiencing the painful realization that love can fade or be destroyed for a time and who haven’t agonized about what to do or how to cope with betrayal or boredom, but the very nature of the dilemmas pre- supposes that either there is all the time in the world to sort things out, or rather dreadfully, no end to the suffering. So at what point do we begin to question our position, our power, our usefulness and importance both in our families and society; at what age do we really take on board our mortality; at what point do we begin to think that time is not on our side.

Inevitably something brings us up short, makes us query who we are and what we are doing. It makes us question not only what we are doing now, but what we intend to do in the future. It can happen at 50, 60 70 or even later, but something triggers that difficult and unwelcome thought “I’m getting old”, perhaps we can initially shrug it off, but sooner or later the thought  returns  perhaps this time with more urgency “am I really turning that corner”. For a beautiful woman the trigger might be the realization that all eyes aren’t on her as she unconsciously pauses to make her entrance in a restaurant; that which has been taken for granted is now noticed by its absence; for the athletic man who has enjoyed and relied upon his physical prowess and taken his potency for granted it might be a sudden lack of energy and limbs that stubbornly refuse to do his bidding.

 The first time a child is truly concerned about your well being, the first time Christmas that doesn’t happen at your house; an incapacitating illness or a relatively minor cataract operation. It might be redundancy, the death of one’s parents, or a photograph of oneself taken “years ago”. The sensible downsizing house move could do it; or a recognition that ones partner is no longer the energetic person they used to be – worse still the look in his eyes that tells you he no longer sees you as the blithe young thing you once were. There are a thousand triggers to the unlooked for and unwanted thought   “that I am crossing into old age”.

And what does old age mean? Unlike the other ages of man, to the casual observer, old age no longer follows a predictable pattern, but is there an inevitable and recognizable decline into old age or are we, by calling it a decline falling into the casual observer’s role.  Let us not be casual observers, but rather be participant observers. What it is like to age in the twenty first century.

© Pauline Hodson