ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 36

Is there life after eighty?

Remember when you were 18 and a person of 30 years seemed incredibly old? So it went on. When you reached 30, you still felt young, but of course you considered those over 40 were only a jump away from senility.

Recently, there have been some class re-unions in Colombo girls’ schools of those who either scored 50 in 2006 or who will arrive at that significant milestone in 2007.

A young friend who had come from Australia for such an event told me there were 45 of them at the lunch!

It’s a long, long jump from 50 to 80, but that’s where I am now (almost 80 plus 2, to be more exact). When we have a class reunion, you can count us on your 5 fingers.

How does it feel? Well, there are pluses and minuses. Undoubtedly, one of the big snags of ageing is that your mobility and your independence are affected. Having happily driven my own car around Colombo for 47 years, it dampens my spirits somewhat to have to call up a taxi now when I want to go anywhere. Even more lowering of self-esteem is that, since undergoing knee surgery, I also need somebody to accompany me on my jaunts nowadays. One ceases to be a free agent when one has to depend on others quite a lot of the time. No longer do I gaily walk up the road to the bookshop or the pharmacy at the top to make my own purchases – instead, I write down what I want and an obliging daughter or domestic help will go out on my behalf.

Rather galling is the fact that one becomes insignificant to the point of invisibility to some people. I might go with my daughter to consult a doctor and after examining me, the medical man is more likely to address his comments to the younger woman, my daughter, instead of to me, the patient.

I’m tacitly put back into second childhood! A telephone repairman came home the other day in response to my having reported a fault. I showed him the instrument and told him what was wrong and he deftly attended to it, but his remarks about the fault were directed entirely to my much younger domestic aide who stood by me.

It was exciting to go out to a dinner-party in a restaurant last week- an outing at night is a rare treat nowadays. The birthday girl celebrated the score of 75 not out.

When one reaches 80 and is widowed as well, one’s social life takes a sharp downward drive, except for family celebrations which are always a highlight.

Nearly all the friends with whom one hobnobbed have gone ahead to that other shore and the one or two who are left are also immobilized and, like oneself, can no longer get out on their own steam. The telephone is a vital link which I use rather recklessly to keep in touch (and try not to grumble when I get the monthly bill!). I wish Sri Lanka Telecom would give concessionary rates to senior citizens.

What about the credit side? TIME is the big bonus, with few obligations now to other people. I can get up in the morning and go to bed at night, when I wish. There’s plenty of time to watch the squirrels pick up in their dainty paws the bread crumbs I put out for them. How much the little fellow who tries to hog it all for himself, chasing away any other squirrel which tries to poke his head into the dish, reminds me of the way we humans behave!

I can stop to enjoy the birds and the butterflies that wander in and out of the garden, or an olu bloom that raises its head to the morning sun in my pond. Hours to spend in sending and receiving e-mails from friends far and wide: with five children and their families residing abroad, I certainly count the e-mail with its instant communication a big bonus in my life. I can sit down to a long snail-mail letter to people who are not on e-mail. There’s time to give a sympathetic ear to other people’s trials and tribulations and to offer what comfort I can. To listen to my favourite CDs at bedtime; to read all I want, even at meals (since I eat alone), or in the toilet!

Aware as I am of Time’s inexorable march, taking me nearer to journey’s end each day, I try to savour to the full all the blessings I still enjoy – the love of family and friends, having someone over to lunch with me every so often, deriving much pleasure from the company of younger folk, mostly friends of my children who are good enough to take the trouble to visit me. (But I do feel a bit taken aback when I’m presented with tins of Sustagen or Nestomalt, obviously seen as suitable gifts for an old lady who really much prefers chocolates!)

Thankful that I still have all my wits about me (I think!), I can read the newspapers and respond with my two cents worth when there is any item that interests or challenges me. It was a tremendous morale-booster to attend the launch last Saturday of Christine Spittel Wilson’s latest book, a fascinating “Memoir” of her long and memorable life of NINETY FOUR years, and I find it of absorbing interest.

Maybe, one necessarily shifts into low gear after 80, but the quality of life can still remain good, if not excellent. Having lived for eight decades, I must surely have learnt a few things on the way.

One is that although my options have become increasingly limited with age, there are still many quiet joys available to me. If I become crabby with the years, preoccupied with my aches and pains, lose interest in other people and the world around me and sound like a mournful Mattie – then I will have only myself to blame if people no longer enjoy my company.

But if I remain young at heart, open to new ideas, welcome human contacts and maintain a positive attitude, I will not lack friends who are pleased to spend time with me. The lure of material possessions ceased to hold me in thrall a long time ago. I have also become keenly conscious of the folly of holding on to hatred, or bitterness, or resentment, or old grudges, and in breaking these fetters I find the priceless gift of peace of mind.

I know beyond a doubt that the most precious things in life are the enduring, loving human relationships we make. That the best thing I can do in the short time that is left, is to show kindness to everyone I meet and to try to bring a smile to their faces. I read this very apt observation somewhere: “When you came into the world, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling. Try so to live that when you die, you will be smiling and all around you will be crying.”

I don’t really want anyone to shed buckets of tears when I depart this earth - I hope those I love will be saddened by my passing, but that they will also remember the happy times and the jokes we shared and smile at the recollection.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.