How do you react when you are posed with the question “How OLD are you?”…

Do you wince, mumbling the wretched number under your breath?  Perhaps you state it proudly, with the enquirer following it up with a welcomed “but you don’t look it!”.  Or do you simply change the conversation, because you would rather not admit to it (as though by uttering the age aloud you somehow go into further decline).  We all have our ways when responding and I am not suggesting that there is a recommended approach in how to handle it (each to their own and what not).  What I do take umbrage with and want to further explore is WHY we answer it the way we do, and in particular, why we must embrace whatever figure leaves our lips.

Aging in Western civilisation can be quite vexing, particularly if aesthetics and physical performance are very important to your lifestyle.  As we get older, these naturally diminish and metabolism slows down so in order to maintain equilibrium, one may have to work harder, both for fitness and the wage packet it would seem.  This is all quite logical too as aside from aging in a physical sense, we also grow wiser cerebrally (one would hope at least) therefore this evolving wisdom needs to be applied to more challenging practices in order to stimulate us and refine one’s abilities.  This in turns leads us to become experts or mentors within specialist fields and if you find yourself gravitating towards one particular area of knowledge, you may want to research it in order to learn more.  This is a wonderful part of aging though, learning more.  I have observed many college and university graduates desist from self-perpetuating the academia they were exposed to within these educational institutes. This is not always a choice I realise as once studies are completed and the ‘working’ world is entered, regulated hours, the need to ‘prove’ oneself to peers and the overwhelming desire to better our income takes priority over the need to stimulate higher learning.  Leisure pursuits ranging from television to the growth of pop culture allow us to regenerate our intellect in a softer way, although this can also contribute to its diminishment.  I have also noticed there is minimal application of personal development and training in some workplaces, blaming time constraints, business needs and budgets as contributing factors.  Is it any wonder that as younger work forces come in and older colleagues heighten their blood pressures with ever increasing workloads (based on their inevitable higher knowledge) that ‘burn out’ occurs, developing an envy of youthful new recruits, with their incredulous nonchalance and only a hangover as their desired achievement for the week?

We have this unhealthy perception of age based on such circumstances.  Gender is also a huge contributing factor, as women are predesigned to reproduce so in order to process this in a positive way, women are working ever harder earlier in order to make a distinctive impression before they must resign themselves to this fate.  And if you make the abhorrent decision not to have children, you are resigned to a man’s world where you are conveyed as robust and determined (although sympathised with also because you have not fulfilled your biological destiny).  I say this glibly though as I have witnessed this reaction from others when judging a woman of age that has not yet born children and then the questions of why, why not and comments of ‘poor her’.  Unfair judgement and usually uninformed yet we tend to look at the existence of others by basing them on our own.  A great pity.  The same can be said of the male of the species too, with a constant overhang of success upon them which is fed by ever achieving men in the media and the perpetual expectation to look after others, monetarily and organisationally.  A melancholy exists on this desire to achieve for both sexes; it is just the barometers that vary.

So why do we comply with them when they clearly make us unhappy?  Surely we should be recognising such repetitive patterns of thinking and therefore take charge of them by not conforming to the hype?  I am not ignorant that the gene pool I have inherited is considered by some as fortunate.  However I am also fully aware that lifestyle and self-discipline also contribute to my outward gaze.  We are all fully able to achieve a good level of mental balance if we simply tuned in our aerials to what makes it function in an optimum way.  Instead of applying rules that worked on our former selves, we could combat a mountain of grievances that seem to start and (never) end with comments such as ‘I used to be able to…’ or ‘I’m getting too old to…’.  How can one define even being ‘too’ old?  It is the expectation of ourselves that we must change, allowing us to then lead the fulfilling lives we actually have RIGHT NOW.  A women interviewed at the age of 100 was asked whether she had any regrets, with her sole response being “had I known I would be alive at 100 I would have taken up the violin at 40.  I’d have been playing 60 years by now!”.  Similarly, an English comedian learnt French specifically to prove his humour translated culturally (which it did), with plans to do the same in German, Spanish, Russian and Arabic.  He is 52.  Why should age be considered an affliction when in fact, it should be revered and something that we all look towards achieving?

Family plays a huge part in this self-regard due to the familiar reunions when one’s current lifestyle is probed, then regaling stories of past loves and jobs only adding to the pot of discontent.  We seek approval from our families; the elders have seen our growth from infancy so this gauge will remain until they pass away.  But do we think that by being more adolescent in age we have some sort of advantage between ourselves and Death’s scythe?  The reality is that we can at any moment have the blade brought down upon our temporary monotony. The important realisation we must seek is to therefore expel thoughts that we are somehow exempt.  By relinquishing the prospect that we somehow live forever or that our nubile bodies and fluctuating metabolisms can gain life eternal, only THEN can we truly appreciate each day, each week and each year that we AGE.  Whichever age group you must consign yourself to, enjoy it, because the shift to another will happen for all of us one day.  What matters is to revel in the privileges that each one brings, looking inward not outward.  With the higher possibility of getting older in the societies we live in, we seem to be more concerned about aging at a younger age.  A little ridiculous and something we must consciously seek to protest against.  We may not be able to change culture single-handedly however we can contribute to the continuity of such subjects by not engaging with the dispersions and assumptions on the subject of age.  It will only allow us more time to get on the with enjoyable business of living (and hopefully getting older in the process).