by Madeleine Kando
People are afraid of old age. I am afraid of old age, even though I am old. I am way past my prime and looking at the flow chart of my life, I am probably where I will either flow into ‘you will live longer’ or ‘you are living on borrowed time’.
It’s really a dilemma. I am pretty sure I will live longer than today. I am not sick, I am not unhealthy, and I don’t feel really all that different from when I was in my 40’s, but I am. Many people die at my age, including my father. On the other hand, my mother, who is going to be a hundred next month, is still alive. So, it’s really a crapshoot, isn’t it?
But what I really wanted to talk about are the advantages of being older. Wouldn’t you like to know? Everybody does. Everybody is going to be old one day but we are all scared shitless. We don’t want to think about it. It’s too abstract. Weird, huh? We think about what ifs all the time. We think: ‘what if I lost my job?’ ‘What if my boyfriend left me?’ ‘What if I got sick?’ But we never think: ‘what if I was old?’ That’s the thing, you see, there is this self-preserving mechanism. We never think what it's like to have kids until we have them. If we did, nobody would have kids. We never think about what hunger feels like until we are hungry. We never think about dying until we have to. Same thing with old age. We never think about old age until we are old, and then we are totally unprepared.
I am unprepared for old age. How can we prepare ourselves and what do we prepare ourselves for? But let me tell you a secret: The nicest thing about old age is that you have had time to paint a multi-dimensional picture of the world, of your world, of life. It’s as if one has lived in many different cultures. The culture of childhood where everything is new and incomprehensible. As a child, I just didn’t understand the things that happened to me, they just happened. You don’t have time to reflect, take a step back; you get bombarded with new things all the time. Childhood is like being on a merry go around; if you try to focus on anything except the wooden horse you are sitting on, you get dizzy. You can only look straight ahead, or shoot sideways glances at the infantile passenger next to you, his arms clutched tightly around his own horse’s wooden mane, caught up in his own little world of dizzying sensations, unable to focus outside the periphery of the wild motion of the carousel.
The culture of adolescence is more like a roller coaster. Up one day, down the next. You need a strong stomach to survive adolescence and more than one ship has been known to capsize on the rocks of its turbulent waters. Once you are over the hump of this rite of passage, thinking that you made it to the other side, the real shit starts to rain down on you.
The culture of young adulthood is as trying as being on a sailboat without a rudder. You are supposed to have it all together, know where you are headed career-wise, marriage-wise and other-wise, but I was petrified of life at that age and were it not for the benevolence of lady luck, who probably took pity on me and sent an amazing man my way, I would have ended up in a loony-bin.
The culture of middle age was good to me. I started to bear the fruits of all the effort that went into juggling all the aspects of my international past. I am glad I grew up in Hungary, France, Holland, England and America. It has developed in me the ability to feel like a bird, flying over the many differently shaped landscapes of life.
And now I have earned the privilege of entering old age. Contrary to what is commonly believed, being older in a way makes you develop a ‘young’ outlook on life, a sense of wonderment and curiosity. You realize that everything is possible, including dying. But if you are lucky enough to stay around for a while, you feel like you won the jackpot. Every morning I wake up and I don’t think ‘Jesus, another day of being OLD’. On the contrary, I wake up and think ‘what’s new in my garden today, what did my one-year old grandson learn to do today? Or: 'Will I be able to finish this story today?’ Being old is really entering a new culture yet again. It is exciting, different, uncharted territory. Lots of things can happen in that culture. Statistically it is the longest period of one’s life.
So, yes, I recommend old age. Besides, we don’t have much choice, do we? All these people who try to not be old, not look old, not admit they are old. Just bring it on, I say, let the good times roll, for however long it lasts. This is a great culture to spend some time in, even though it is the last frontier. leave comment here
Friday, August 9, 2013
by Madeleine Kando