Saturday, March 20, 2004

The hardest aspects of getting older

Getting past 40. Gosh, I think people who do cosmetics, creams, hair colours and surgery, are plainly ridiculous! If they have to cling so desperately to a vision of youthfulness; if they are so afraid to give up the power of youthful beauty that they once wielded so callously: what a fragile box with shallow foundations they live in, and what terrors must await them beyond their cardboard walls.

A vast segment of the Western economy is devoted to maintaining the delusions of the vain aged. The hairdressers and dress shops may be obvious, but what about the expensive distractions of charity socials, art appreciation (where you indulge feckless artists to enjoy vicariously their reckless youth), and doing up the house with every accoutrement that the architect can sell you? Or owning vast ranches, or buying racehorses, or collecting cars that hide in a garage and are rarely ever seen let alone sat in? When you look at it that way, ancient and more realistic cultures (the ones least touched by Western values), must be horrified that they might get swallowed up by Planet U.S.A. So it is not surprising to have extreme religious fanatics embark on guerilla terrorism against what must seem to them to be a cancer.

Losing your looks is the least of the problems of getting over 40. The internal physical decline is increasingly apparent and undeniable. You don't see any Olympic athletes in that age bracket, do you? The mental agility too is ever shrinking, although it can be fortunately replaced by wisdom and more structured thoughts and emotions. But for me, the very hardest part of being over 40 is realising that most of the places, people, things, processes, social attitudes and circumstances - the ones that you grew up with and felt familiar with - are already gone, disappeared, never ever to be seen again. This is the same kind of sadness that must have accompanied the death of the horse and plough, the steam train, the sailing ship, the vast tracts of virgin oak forests.

The music is gone, the pubs are gone, the dance clubs are gone, the way you let loose on the weekend is gone, the chums are gone (even if you still keep in touch, their priorities are different now). The abandoned plots are gone, the restaurants are gone, the way you have sex is gone. The food is gone, the farm animals are gone, the corporations are gone, the local shops are gone. The TV comedies are gone, the stars are gone, the lords and manors are gone. The filthy rich are gone, the desperately poor are gone, the Florence Nightingales are gone. The language is gone, the slide rule is gone, the bath water boiling on the stovetop is gone.

And instead you have to smile patiently when a teenager in all earnest innocence tells you something about now, which is everything to them because it is all they have ever known, and yet it is only another marginal fraction on your spectrum of ongoing experience.

Wow, my grandmother (now long dead) sighed at me when as a young boy I expressed surprise that she had schools to go to when she was a child. And how much more there was behind that sigh, for she was 75 then, and I have still so far to go......

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