I have always wanted to be old- ever since I was a child. I hated being told what to do. I liked my independence and as soon as I could, I made a home for myself on my own terms. True freedom when you're a nascent adult must be playing the Rolling Stones at full blast in the middle of the night while drinking too much alcohol!
I yearned for lines on my face and gnarled fingers. Somehow lines, and wrinkles signify a type of wisdom. I LOVE my grey hair so much so that when people stop me in the street- to gasp in admonishment that I don't dye my hair, I laugh all the more. I am free of the slavery of maintaining a myth. I stopped smoking the year my father died and I was livid to find that despite having smoked for 24 years I had no withdrawal whatsoever. It was as if I had never smoked ever in my life! But the bondage of dependency really sucks at the life force and once I had given up the nicotine rush, I felt unleashed. It was an awakening.
Giving up fear was the second best thing I ever did. Becoming detached. Thinking that whatever happens however terrible, well so what? Accepting that when one surrenders, one becomes stronger.
Being a slave to anything, TV, popular culture, are all things that make me want to live on top of a hill and spend the rest of my life in contemplation. Politics? Well, don't get me started.... I recently ran into my dog-walking friend, the undertaker: "People who go into politics have to want to help others," he exhorted, "they have to want to change the world for the better...." Yawn. How do you know when a politician is lying? His lips are moving.
What is so terrible about getting old? I rather love the way it makes me feel- crumpled in parts, wobbly in other bits but content and calm. Surely that state of saying, "apres moi le deluge!", is what really matters? To know that one has earned one's stripes, earned the ability to laugh in the face of adversity and maybe even thrive when faced with challenge and hardship.
But getting old can be an obstacle course- what's the point of being old and miserable? There is a man who walks his dog that I see often and I estimate the last time he smiled was in the Stone Age. How is it possible to be so darn miserable? To lose the ability altogether to say hello, smile at your dog's happy face and not look like you had a bucket of sour lemons for breakfast?
When I look back at my life there have been older people who crossed my path and now I can see them: branded by the past as if a hot iron had scarred their minds forever. Bitter, embroiled in never letting go, never moving on, never getting away from what sends you into a permanent state of kissing the bottom of an abyss.
There are older people who I have met who turn a thing around and around and around in their heads forever as if the words beginning and end had never entered the English language. The past becomes the present and the future is now. Bitterness engenders bitterness. Miserable people don't have happy friends. And if they do, they want to squash the smile right out of them because it makes them feel good.
Getting old can be sexy- hard to imagine in our sex-obsessed society but in the true etymological meaning of the word: lustful for, yearning for ....life.
We are never too old that we are dead. And when we are dead then it is quite simply the end. But until then, do yourself a favour. Chuck out the botox, the hair dye, the viagra, the wrong wife and most importantly, burn the illusions of being anything but who you really are.
Photo copyright SvD.