On Ageing Gratefully…


I think one of the biggest challenges for those of us in our fifties, sixties, seventies and beyond, is that we don’t have easily-relatable role models for this stage of our lives. No matter how much we may respect and admire our parents and their generation, the World has changed hugely in the last twenty or thirty years, and how they approached their fifties onwards is different to how, for example, I am approaching mine. The Internet was just a bit late for my own parents, who view it with suspicion and bewilderment. Doubtless when I’m in my 70s and 80s there will be technological advances which I will find similarly perplexing, but right now I don’t want to get left behind!

My current, pet peeve: Anti-ageing. Because it makes “ageing” something bad that requires an oppositional prefix; think anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-social. Whereas ageing is an inevitable, natural, albeit challenging, process. The prospect of becoming older and less able, more vulnerable to loss and decline is frightening, but what about the alternative?

At the weekend I read about a woman who I met just once earlier this year. She is a good few years younger than me. She has a young family. She has just been diagnosed with inoperable cancer. The prognosis is not good. And when I read about her, I made one of those easily-forgotten pledges to value every day – but not just to be thankful for each day, but to be grateful for the opportunity to get older; to age. Of course, I know that I will forget. When I have a “down” day, or when at some point the barbs of old age cut deeper, I, too, will complain and have moments of self-pity, but that’s the price we humans pay for the capacity to self-reflect.

The French talk about age in a different way. Literally. Where I would say “I am 56”, my French counterpart would say “I have 56”. The verbs are different, and I don’t think it is simply about syntax. To say “I am 56” makes my age a number that defines me, but to say “I have 56” can transform it into an indicator of achievement (or endurance).

I’ve been watching the fourth series of Grace and Frankie on Netflix. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin play two women who have become reluctant housemates, following the latent ‘coming out’ and subsequent marriage, of their husbands. Whilst the earlier series focussed on the situational comedy of this unlikely pairing (Fonda and Tomlin), the latest is a poignant portrayal of the vulnerability of older age, as the characters negotiate a path through fear, loss and the changing perceptions of others.

It reminded me of the oft-quoted words of Bette Davis “Old age is no place for sissies” – but at least if we manage to get there, we know it’s by dint of a whole heap of experience. And, of course, a lot of luck. Perhaps what this also means is that we have been, and are, very resourceful. Maybe, more than preceding generations, we have the opportunity (and resources) to break the mould, kick over the traces, think outside the box, or whatever individualist, non-conformist, latent hell-raising, survivalist sentiment fits.

In a few months I will have 57 years. This. Is my Game Face.

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