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The joyous privilege of growing older…

Submitted by on Sunday, 22 March 2009One Comment
The joyous privilege of growing older…

Recently while expounding on my aversion to ageing, and bemoaning that my body didn’t function as well as it used to, my rather bored companion said, “Oh stop whining about getting old. Think of all the people you’ve known who never had the privilege.” Well that stopped me in my tracks.

Who do I know who would have liked to grow old? I suppose my younger brother would happily swap with me; he died aged thirty six.  My father died of a heart attack on his seventieth birthday. I’m sure he still had unfinished business.

And what of the famous people who have died during my lifetime? Take John Lennon. How many un-composed hit tunes went to the grave with him? And would he have liked a few more years, albeit just to marvel at the excitement and intrigue that is Paul McCartney’s life?

List the departed that have played some role in your times and you realize how many didn’t make it. In a previous life in London, I lived next door to the phenomenal English Formula 1 Motorcycle rider, Barry Sheen. Sadly he died at the age of 52; tragically losing a battle to cancer of the stomach and throat. By all accounts he was amazing. How distressing he didn’t have more time to be amazing.

I also knew James ‘Hunt the shunt’, 1976 Formula 1 Motor Racing World Champion, having played squash against him. In 1993, a mere 45 years old, he died of a heart attack. What would he make of people complaining about getting older?

Scottish comedian Billy Connolly tells of working in the shipyards where he had to collect an item from stores. Waiting for the storeman to serve him, he noticed the guy had a hacking, rasping cough of Olympian proportions.

As the storeman served him, Connolly remarked, “Good cough”.

“Is that so Billy?” he snapped, “Well there are plenty of people in the graveyard who wish they had my cough.”

Ernest Becker in his 1974 Pulitzer Prize Winning book, The Denial of Death says, “We human beings develop strategies to fend off awareness of our mortality and vulnerability, to escape into the feeling that we’re immortal”. So, while pretending we aren’t going to die, we get irritated with ageing because it is a constant reminder we are going to die.

But have you ever considered – knowing you are going to die, far from being a dampener, can be a huge motivating influence?

If death wasn’t certain, we would have to contend with numerous complications. “What happens if I don’t die – will I have to get into super shape to live forever? Do I sleep with the same partner for all time? Won’t they get bored? (I sometimes think she is already!) Five hundred years from now, will my job still exist? Won’t I eventually know everything? Will my knees last? Will they still always make beer? Etc.”

Knowing you aren’t going to live forever (in this life anyway), you don’t have to answer those questions. Knowing you have a finite time, means you can decide the things you would fit into that period; places you would like to see, (some, if I live to six thousand, I wouldn’t bother with), things to do, to achieve, to experience, food you would like to eat and the money you will need to earn.

Knowing roughly how long you have left, means you can decide to enjoy it to the full. Not knowing means you have to wonder how much energy to put into any one moment, just in case you end up with more moments than you have energy for.

Often we are held back by fear of failure. Knowing you are going to die, means you shouldn’t have any fear of failing. I mean are you going to be dead regretting you failed? So start tackling those challenges you avoided for fear of not succeeding at them.

In his book ‘Your Erroneous Zones’, Dr. Wayne Dyer asks, “How long are you going to be dead for?” The answer is infinity. Compared to infinity our lives are miniscule drops in the ocean and so we shouldn’t take getting old, or too much else, too seriously. An interviewer once asked South African bestselling author Wilbur Smith, what his life philosophy was. He answered, “Most things don’t matter, and those that do; don’t matter very much.”

Recently I came across a list of world athletic age records and noticed in 1994, at 51, a Harold Morioka ran the 400m in 51.7 sec. When I was at school, to get colours for athletics in the 400m, you had to run under 52 seconds. If during my school days you had put Harold Morioka, who at 51 I would have considered seriously old, in a 400m race against the school’s fastest runners, and said he would get his colours for the event and win, I think I would have died laughing. But on his above time – he would have.

That made me consider how I am responding to ageing. Am I making the most of it? Am I achieving what someone my age is capable of achieving in every sphere of my life? Instead of whining shouldn’t I rather savour the joyous privilege of it all, and get on with living the rest of my time to the hilt?

Rules for ageing

  • Be happy you have wrinkles – it means you’re not dead.
  • Accept the pursuit of youth is vanity. There is grace in wearing your years honestly.
  • There is more to life than how you look and what other people think of you.
  • Remember everything and everyone is interesting – if you pay attention. So really listen when friends and family speak.
  • A challenge of aging gracefully is you have to find things that are important to you. Look for them.
  • Keep your mind nimble – you can improve your IQ even as you age.
  • Plan for your future and exercise without becoming fanatical.
  • Know when to give up unsuitable attire. Dress your age – within reason.
  • You’re never too old for good shoes.
  • Enjoy the comedy of life’s struggles.
  • Stop taking yourself so seriously.
  • Remember: It’s ok to grow old – just never grow up. Anon

One Comment »

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