Growing old and loving it!
There is a strange something in most of us that hates the thought of growing old.
I say "strange" because it obviously does not apply to all kinds of getting old. In fact, this aversion only kicks in after a certain age. Most of us remember how excited we were as kids to notice the first visible signs of our growing up - to observe the first sprouting of a moustache or a beard, the change in the tone of our voices, the increase of flesh or muscles on our body and the frequent measuring of our heights to take note of the rapid increase in inches almost on a monthly, if not weekly basis!
If asked his age, an average five-year-old not long past his fifth birthday, would most certainly claim "to be six years old soon". Similar is the excitement of stepping into the teens and even more exciting, the growing out of the teens. All these milestones are eagerly anticipated and passionately announced to the whole wide world.
But somewhere around the mid-thirties, this excitement of growing old suddenly seems to wane off. I have seen very few people who were as excited going into their fortieth year as they were going into their twentieth or even thirtieth year. Nor have I seen many people who point out their first few grey hairs with pride, as they did their first facial hair. On the contrary, there is almost a panic attack on spotting grey hair - how do I make sure no one sees it? Almost immediately, we begin to squeeze one more weekly activity into our busy schedules - the elaborate routine of colouring our moustache, beard or hair, back into the "youthful" black that it was just a few days back. It should be no surprise then, that products that promise anti-ageing benefits are amongst the most sought after today!
This resentment towards growing old is not just in the case of our own individual ageing. Most of us hate to see those around us growing old too. My parents still want to see me as the young man I once was and not as someone who has almost completed fifty full trips around the sun. Much in the same manner, we also don't like to see our parents growing old. In today's age where most of us are in touch with our school friends in various whatsapp groups, while greeting a friend on his birthday, amidst all the wishes, someone invariably makes a comment in a despairing tone about how we are all growing old; to be followed invariably by responses like "we are not growing old, we are growing young", "age is just a number", "all that matters is a youthful heart" and so on. Such statements only serve to betray the deep-rooted fear of growing old that seems to be inherent in all of us.
But why this fear, this aversion to growing old?
It does not take much pondering to conclude that the main reasons for this resentment can be traced back to a fear around a loss of some kind, a fear of "losing something" - losing things ranging from the seemingly mundane to the profound - losing hair colour, losing hair itself, losing skin tone, losing companionships, losing relationships, losing memories, losing control, losing health and ultimately losing life.
While the fear of losing is indeed significant and worrisome, there is something beyond the loss itself, that makes it even more depressing - it is the grim knowledge that we will not be able to regain these things that are being lost. If we knew in our hearts that we will be able to regain our hair (in a natural manner!) or our health or indeed our life after we lose it, I am certain that we would not look at these losses with the same hopeless perspective. In fact, when a baby's milk teeth fall off, the parents are inwardly happy that their child is growing and can now gain permanent teeth!
And so, more than the fear of losing, it is the hopeless knowledge that there is no coming back, no second chance, no regaining any of the lost things, which makes the loss itself seem even more devastating.
Now, can anything at all be done to address this fear?
I know that I risk the chance of coming across as someone who has it all figured out, of sounding arrogant even, when I say the following. Far from it - these are mere ponderings and attitudes that in some way, shape or form, I hope to and I am trying to imbibe for my own sake. With that disclaimer aside, I believe there are at least two ways in which we can start addressing this fear.
One - is to look at our lives as not what is left of it, but what has already been lived fruitfully; at not what is yet to be accomplished, but what has already been achieved. I am not saying that we cannot or should not have a sense of wanting to achieve even more - if we are so disposed (unfortunately many of us are not), that is excellent in itself and that alone will lead to a sense of purpose looking forward. But for most of us, I dare say that a sense of gratitude can go a long way in calming us as we grow old - gratitude for the various gifts that life has blessed us with, rather than what it has not or what has been snatched away from us. A sense of sincere and thankful acceptance at whatever is, rather than what could have been. A sense of satisfaction in having done what we could do and a conviction that there was not much more that I could have done. A willingness to share the experiences and lessons learnt in a lifetime with those around us, especially the younger ones as they interact with us. An attitude of sincere love, an attitude of forgiveness to those who may have rubbed us the wrong way years ago - it is not worthwhile to keep all those grudges and frustrations pent up inside us; if we can only be willing to let go and let be.
Do I sound like an eighty-year-old with one foot already in the grave? Maybe I do, but these are thoughts that I seriously ponder on even today, sitting as I am, quite a long way from eighty years.
There is also a second way - but before reading further, I must warn you that this may not resonate with all who read this article, for I am about to point you to something beyond the physical. I am convinced beyond doubt that the only way this fear of growing old and ultimately losing our life can be truly addressed, is from a spiritual perspective. Personally, my spiritual conviction is my Christian hope that this world is not the end - that there is life beyond our lives here - that there is hope beyond the grave, on the other shore. And in more ways than one, the thought of being on the other shore enthuses me and encourages me greatly.
And that is why, the appearance of a few grey hair, far from being a cause for concern, is rather a cause for rejoicing!
This is not to take anything away from the "age is just a number" perspective. It truly is - no arguments there. And all power to the "we are growing young" chanters. And also to those who would like to hide that grey hair for a few years more.
But as for me, I am growing old - and loving every moment of it!