“I grow old… I grow old… I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled” – T. S. Elliot
In the last week I’ve had two glimpses into old age:
One was offered by re-reading one of my favourite books of all time – Any Human Heart by William Boyd. In the book, Boyd tracks the entire life of Logan Mountstuart and writes the latter sections of the book magestically, in which Logan ages.
The second is I’ve had a bad flu, akin to the swine flu I picked up last year. Fortunately, despite what the band the Verve might claim, the drugs do work and they make things better. Much better. However, for a few days I felt old. Everything ached and standing wasn’t much fun, so I was bedridden.
Growing old happens to everyone who isn’t struck down prematurely by tragedy. As such, for most growing old is a preference. In some countries, like Ladakh, or Kenya it is respected. In others, sadly we start to loose our respect for others as their faculties diminish.
I imagine it’s hugely humbling, getting old. Even the greatest leader, the fiercest fighter, the most indefatigable hero can be reduced to needing care from others for the most basic things.
Yet the perspective from our elders can help us that are young to understand what’s most important, IF we’re willing to listen. It can give us a vantage on some of the follies of life. A poem I quoted earlier on this blog indicates that the experience of age helps us pick out the more important aspects of living. Here is a similar poem, again posted earlier, which includes some more of my musings about the wonder of old age. Although I’ve just noticed that if you read the two poems more closely you’ll notice that plagiarism might not something that diminishes with age!
As we get older our priorities change. Here’s a passage from Julian Barnes’s Nothing To Be Frightened Of which exalts the finesse that age can bring:
“There is something infinitely touching when an artist, in old age, takes on simplicity. The artist is saying: display and bravura are tricks for the young, and yes, showing off is part of ambition; but now that we are old, let us have the confidence to speak simply. For the religious, this might mean becoming a child again in order to enter heaven; for the artist, it means becoming wise enough, and calm enough not to hide. Do you need all those extravagances in the score, all those marks on the canvas, all those exuberant adjectives? This is not just humility in the face of eternity, it is also that it takes a lifetime to see, and say, simple things” (p189)
Musing on age can help us. What memories would you like to be able to reminisce on when you’re older? Would you prefer a massive pension and a large house, or a close family, friends around you and a sense of community?
Money can buy you excellent care, but it can’t buy you love and affection, unless Anna Nicole Smith is in your sights. And even then, it might not be your mind and body that are in hers.
It’s worth musing on old age and death more often than we do. It might be worth spending some more time with old people and ask them about their priorities, what they would do differently and for their advice.
Thinking about our demise doesn’t have to be morbid. In fact, it might help keep you alive.
“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time” – Mark Twain
Better still: I want to die in my sleep like my grandfather… Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car. – Will Shriner