When does someone practically start thinking of their old age? When does the solemnity of the inevitable phase actually kick in?
Is it when the joints begin to creak or when the memory begins to lapse more frequently than we like? When we see retirement on the horizon, or when the children get married, giving us a hint that we are on the verge of crossing our prime?
While these may all be pointers to what is lyrically described as the ‘twilight years’, what inspires me to spare serious thoughts to it are the old people around me and my observation of them. From our own parents to those of others, they serve as examples and clues to what I can expect of me a decade or so from here.
I could suggest to myself it is a long way from now, and smugly revel in the plasticity of middle age, but it is getting increasingly difficult to ignore the reality of it, especially with the emergence of more and more illustrations of age-related grievances in my vicinity.
Although it is impossible to predict what whammies life might put on us in the future, it would serve us well to be cognizant of the possibilities and be mentally prepared to take the waning years in our stride. It is not as if we are going to plunge into it headlong one fine morning; we are given time to weigh up the eventualities and map out our innings when we get there. The idea is to control what we can, so that those that are not in our power can take care of themselves.
What then are the biggest botherations of old age that might afflict us and throw us out of kilter?
The winding down of mental and physical faculties are a given, and with the kind of lifestyle we are currently leading, we are already beginning to see signs of what is to come. We are not going to be any healthier than we are now if we willfully indulge in practices detrimental to our wellbeing. To wax eloquent about good health is one thing, and to take massive action to maintain it is another.
So, let us put our best foot forward now to give ourselves the privilege of being able to strut around even when natural wear and tire slows us down.
It is useless to wish that we will be on top of the game forever. Decrepitude and deterioration is par for the course; the mind and body has a tenure, and it will begin to live it out slowly with time. The only way we can deal with it is by coming to terms with it.
It is normal to feel frustrated when the limbs don’t comply, or the memory doesn’t serve as before. To expect our system to function as impeccably as it used to in the younger years is our biggest folly. Our refusal to accept the ravages of time is the primary reason to our resentment in old age.
The irritability is the result of not acknowledging that the power of our CPU has diminished, and it can only work at half capacity. My dad used to say every time his old Herald Standard car gave him trouble, ‘70s model, I can’t expect more from it.’ Knowing what we are capable of pulling off and not, is the key here.
I also know senior citizens who sink in self-pity as the deterioration takes place. The travails of failing health apart, there is the fear of losing respect and dignity in the eyes of others. It makes them want them to assert themselves, loudly and often with aggression.
Many look back on their lives and feel an acute sense of inadequacy, a dissatisfaction with their achievements and as they watch younger people making greater strides than what they have, they are filled with regret and bitterness about opportunities lost.
The only way to get around this is by counting every personal milestone one has passed without comparison to others, to find fulfilment in what we can do within the given constraints and how optimally we can use the rest of our lifespan.
Nothing that happens at that time is reversible, but we can try to find ways of not suffering the intransigencies of time. I am teaching myself to believe that there is no such thing as autumn leaf. It is a plain green leaf that is passing through the autumn season, changing colours, and when it has bided its time, drops down happily.