Saturday, September 03, 2016

being old, successfully

I recently set a writing exercise for a group of people, 90% of whom were over 50. They had to answer the question: "Are there any advantages to getting older?" I was amazed at how many of them came out with abundant and optimistic lists of reasons to say "Yes!" 

I was surprised, because I could think of only six, and four of those are my grandchildren. My other two were seeing my children grow into adults I admired (as well as loved); and having the mental space to really appreciate tiny, everyday pleasures, such as my pillow, or a summer evening bike ride on the empty Monsal Trail. I could go on forever with this list.

I'm still thinking about the question. 

Assuming we have enough money not to worry, and we are healthy, being old successfully - i.e. staying happy - is still a tricky thing to master. Death is all around us, and we're aware of how tenuous is our grasp on life, so we want to use our days in ways we won't regret. How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.  And in order to retain our health we have to pay daily attention to keeping fit, eating well, not drinking too much. We need to keep cheerful and not complain about our aches and pains - or in my case, my tiredness and lack of energy. And we need to stay involved in the world and it's concerns, up to date with latest trends and developments so as not to become old fogeys, always doing new things and going new places so as not to be boring and bored. (Mixing with young people helps with all of this.)

It's hard work and it's a skill to practice - being old successfully. Weirdly, it reminds me of that poem that Larkin wrote for Kingsley Amis' daughter when she was born, Born Yesterday. He was wishing her well for her future, and being old successfully is a different venture, but it takes many of the same skills - 

In fact, may you be dull -
If that is what a skilled,
Vigilant, flexible,
Unemphasised, enthralled
Catching of happiness is called.


marmee said...

such an interesting question! I think about it a lot because I have been so much happier in the last 15 years of my life. I grew up in a deeply dysfunctional home. My poor parents had the kind of childhoods that would seem not quite believable if used in a plot for a novel. Some twenty years ago I trained for and became a "hands on" carer for goodness...steep learning curve but how deeply fortunate I was to be able to do that...the patients taught me how to love and how to be loved. And then I got to live on a teeny tiny island off the nigerian least four different types of kingfisher at my front door...water monitors, yellowbilled kites 9 at a time, vultures on the roof! I loved it and the kind of hardship in other ways that centre one, that bring to the deep enjoyment of the ordinary and the realisation of little one really actually needs. So for me..older has been better all the way. I am 66 now, aches and creaks..a knee that doesnt work so well but I am full on into aqua pilates. Yes, I fear some dark things, dementia, losing a partner..but oh I hope i can remember that life is a gift, that while we are learning and loving life is worthwhile.

Sue Hepworth said...

"while we are learning and loving life is worthwhile."
wonderful. Thank you, Marmee. There's no more to be said.

liza said...

nice post