Monday Musings 287 - Age is not just a number
There are some dates on the calendar that are very prone to deep philosophical angst – new years and birthdays being particularly notorious one. Many, if not all of us become especially serious and susceptible to grumbling and growling voices from within, which find utterances that can safely be called deep stuff in contemporary parlance. Thankfully both the New Year and the birthday last for just a day and hence those philosophical musings also have a half life of 24 hours. Things are prone to becoming more ‘normal’ thereafter. This musing must hence be read in that perspective, in that it is being written exactly one day after my birthday and hence has the likelihood of suffering from what can be loosely called the equivalent of post partum depression – that it is a foetus born to the tumult induced by such post 40 birthdays; we shall see what fate awaits it.
In the first ten years or so birthdays are welcomed with an innocence characteristic of those years – they are looked forward to. Every year the day gives us an impression that we are going somewhere meaningful. We are becoming someone worthwhile – adults who can take their decisions and who can do things that they can. The next decade we celebrate birthdays almost in competition with the birthdays that others celebrate – so that ours turns out to be more fun filled than others. It is the beginning of comparison that will haunt us for the rest of our lives, where even an infinitely personal celebration such as our own birthday acquires the overtones of comparison with the Jones (or Joshi’s if you want a more Indian metaphor!) Very few will ever be able to come out of it, if at all. The third decade of our lives birthdays are liberating – for we have now either the licence or resources or perspective to chose how the birthday shall be celebrated and what should they mean to us. Perhaps for the first time we know what we want and have the liberty to exercise that choice.
It is the fourth decade birthdays that things start becoming really interesting or poignant – the way you look at it. This is the first time euphemisms, utterly misleading at that, that start worming their way into conversations. I find two of them particularly misleading ‘’40s is the new 30s’ and my personal favourite ‘Age is just a number’. My apologies to the eternal optimists – Age is certainly not just a number – it’s a depressing reminder of what has passed and many a times a frustrating reminder at that.
Most human stories are of stories of regret – of what did not happen or what got missed or what could have been. Sometimes I feel overt expression of optimism is a giant cover up – a means to masquerade gnawing regrets with sugar coated homilies. The louder the jingoism of optimism is, the shriller the underlying agony of regret there is. If the first birthdays were of reassurance of growing up to become something, it is here onwards that the we start questioning the point of growing up; that if all that we had imagined as the fruits of growing up have indeed materialised; that if the contours of our lives have kept pace with the contours of our imagination.
The irreversibility of age must not be camouflaged with these optimistic euphemisms. It does a greater damage to the world of possibilities that still remain unborn with whatever time we are left with. We must begin with acknowledging that ageing is real, that its perilous grip over us is real – that the knees are increasingly becoming wobbly, and the girth is forever expanding; that climbing stairs is no longer the joy that used to be, that we cannot take as much liberties with our bodies as we could have taken, that the gap between what our bodies can do and what our mind wants to do is only increasing and finally that we might be only able to postpone the inevitable but not reverse it. The body is like an old fabric, it is fraying at its ends, slowly but surely.
The other dimension of ageing that must be looked squarely in its eyes is the question of meaningfulness. Life explodes at a certain stage for all us – and the rest of the years are spent collecting the shreds that are left behind; and each shred is splitting into its own shreds. We are getting so consumed with picking these pieces that for most of us, that itself is the central point of life; collecting the shreds has become the raison d’etre; the purpose, the be all and end all. Ageing brings back these vital dilemmas back to the fore. It’s like a holiday trip which is coming to an end and one knows that there are so many places that were on the list that have still not been attended to-compounded by the chilling reminder that you won’t come to this destination again. This is not the rant of an overambitious, materialistic, consumeristic cry of a hoarder; but a silent cry of a seeker. Ageing beckons like a wakeup call. It is asking us of our notion of what a fulfilling life is – whatever it is.
This reflection can either be a deeply anguishing or a stunningly liberating one. Age induced pause has the potential to provide energy and purposefulness; to make slight detours but powerful ones, to make minor modifications but deeply significant ones, to begin new things and stop the old ones, to rediscover old flames and flush out current toxins. The rest of our lives are pregnant with infinite possibilities – if only the implication of ageing is experienced in its essence.
Age is not a peck of dirt to be brushed under the carpet; it’s a rusted bronze statue that needs polishing so that it reclaims its essential glow again. Age has to be first seen as it is – in the cruelty of its truth.
So here is to those who rubbish age as a mere number – even numbers have significance. It’s a very unique and personal significance for sure, but significance enough to stop us from rubbishing it as a mere number.