Novelist and playwright, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, wrote: “He is the most fortunate man who can bring the end of life round to its beginning again.” My dad, at 93, was physically and mentally active, going for plays, movies, Western music-concerts, reading, writing daily (in his journal), exercising, going for walks and most importantly, having a great sense of humour. When asked by a doctor to take it easy because of old age, he asked, “Old age? What’s that?? I think my present age, although it’s very advanced, is the most pleasant and finest period of my life! I would not exchange my life for the most flourishing youthfulness.”
His words were a wake-up call for me since I had put on a lot of weight at that stage of life and was becoming lethargic. I took a mental about-turn and was determined to be like dad. Every senior person should be like dad in his outlook! In fact, dad used to tell me the story of ‘The Tithonus Wish’ – man’s longing for youth and immortality embodied in the Greek mythological legend of Tithonus. His wife mistakenly asked the Gods to grant him eternal life instead of eternal youth. Hence, Tithonus wound up in an endless purgatory of decrepitude. To live a longer life, to merely achieve longevity, is a wrong and wretched wish. In fact, it’s a curse. So Tithonus asked the Gods to grant him an eternal fountain of youth. It was denied and he was miserable.
Several ancient cultures, notably, the Limurean, Atlantis and Egyptian, were obsessed with immortality, especially ancient Egypt, where bodies were mummified and buried with their slaves, jewellery, utensils and even pets. More than 2,500 years ago, Chinese alchemists known as Thermatugists devoted all their time and energy to create ‘drinkable gold’ as a means of prolonging life. Even ancient India had certain secret herbs to prolong life.
Biologists, molecular scientists and even etymologists (people who study the origin of words) are working round the clock, spending obscene amounts of money to help us stay younger and longer. Drastic measures like augmentations, botox and face surgeries! Who wants a plastic face when you have ‘earned’ those wrinkles, which are a map of the life you have led!!
A recent study found that cockroaches do not age gracefully. After about sixty weeks of adulthood, roaches get stiff joints which inhibit climbing and make it difficult for them to walk on vertical surfaces. One scientist said that it was all in the mind and the brain of the cockroach. He removed a part of the roach’s brain and sure enough, the cockroach flew like a youngster. Too fantastic to believe? I thought so too! But it was published in a reputed science magazine, so I give it the benefit of doubt!
But this got me thinking – would you allow a part of your brain to be removed to become more youthful? Would you sip a magic potion to become younger? If a part of your brain is removed, what about past memories? Wouldn’t you be surrendering your personality as well? And which memories would you subtract? The year you fell in love? And what about the years your children were born? Would you take away the grief-filled year that was spent saying good-bye to the parent you were caring for? In removing painful memories, would you also remove that part of the brain that recalls the smell of the first rain on your lawn or the first time you saw Paris? Your first kiss?
As I consistently point out, there’s another poetic and precise premise of age, it’s the youthful state of your soul. Inside, you are all the exceptional qualities given to you at birth as gifts to be cherished, developed and enhanced. Life brings to each one of us, health problems, unhappiness, setbacks and tragedies but you won’t succumb because you have those birthday gifts. What you were as a child, you can be now. Your birthday candle is still burning bright!
See the value and victory of each passing birthday. Be grateful for the years that have passed and hopeful for the years ahead. There’s no cure, potion or injection for not aging – except death, which is inevitable. It will come to you, me and everybody. But you can die feeling old or die feeling young.
In the movie, ‘Shirley Valentine’, the main character is a middle-aged wife and mother of two grown children, who finds herself talking to the kitchen wall while cooking dinner for her husband. She decides to travel to engage her curiosity and to ignite her love and laughter. She doesn’t want to wait until it’s too late, believing, “Most of us die long before we’re dead. And what kills us is the terrible weight of all this unused life that we carry around.”
There is unused life inside you. Don’t extinguish it, don’t let it weigh you down and don’t let it make you old before your time. We all can be so much more than who we are. Our glory, greatness, humour, love, compassion, are all as individual as they are universal. Re-read your life, review your life. Re-act your life as a ‘Will-Be’ and not a ‘Has-Been’. Feel young in your body, mind and your tomorrows.
Read, write, sit in mother nature’s lap, go see a play or a movie, meet friends who make you feel alive (not depressed). Ask questions, share stories. Get out of your house, your bed, your chair, your old ways and grow young. Fill each day with optimism, laughter, joy, delight. Find these consciously. Learn something everyday and do what makes you feel young – even if it’s just buying a new lipstick or phoning an old school-friend. Be grateful for everything you have. This way, you’ll make your own happy ending. Redeem and revive all that was original, good, authentic and true in you.
You are young even at eighty if you think life is fulfilling, vigorous, happy and joyful. In fact, your body, mind and face will feel younger when you practise timeless qualities like kindness, strength, compassion, wisdom, dedication, enthusiasm and above all, a sense of humour!