I am thinking about ageing; specifically, the inappropriate language we use to describe the ageing process. We speak about decline, deterioration, dementia, diminishment and loss of dignity. Our words depict a downward spiral, and a negation of being. We talk of growing old, yet that is only what happens in numerical terms. In reality we grow younger. We become part of a re-creation, a transformation, of our body and mind. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is really not so curious at all. Most of us will become infant-like towards the end of our earthly life.
My mother spends most of her time in a day chair. She is bone-weary. She finds it hard to accept her ‘re-creation”. She misses her walking and reading, and a clear mind.
In a quiet moment during my recent visit, she said,” Someone said to me, I think it was Pop, ‘Don’t get old, K….., old age is a bugger’.” We chuckled wryly about her father-in-law’s statement. In today’s terms, he was not old when he gave his words of wisdom. However, he followed his own advice and died in his early seventies. His stubborn daughter-in-law took no heed but, now, at 92 is beginning to understand the aches and pains and ennui that prompted those words.
Yet, despite the undeniable physical discomfort associated with increasing years, my mother’s perspective on age and that of my grandfather are part of a culture that sees age as a disability, an indignity, a vexation and a condition that requires separation from mainstream society in nursing homes or gated retirement complexes*.
Is it possible to change our perceptions of ageing by changing our language? As does John O’Donohue…
For Old Age
May the light of your soul mind you.
May all your worry and anxiousness about your age
from John O’Donohue’s ‘To Bless the Space Between Us’.
Without devaluing a long life and the wisdom gained, could we not accept and cherish the re-creation/ transformation we undergo as the years add up?. Can we teach ourselves to look forward to a time when we are as helpless and loved as a new-born baby? Can we learn to say to ourselves, ” I am not growing older. I am growing younger by the minute. And I am fine with that.” A tall order! But not impossible.
Matthew 18: At that time the disciples came to Jesus
and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.
And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
Although my mother follows the Christian faith, her confidante and special companion for many years has been the Laughing Buddha. Some years ago she gave me a Laughing Buddha, too. He sits on my table and keeps me company. The Laughing Buddha speaks a universal language. It has no age. It is timeless. Can you hear it in his laughing smile?
* As I have said in previous posts, some retirement communities work well for people. They provide security and good living conditions. However, I still find it odd that we consider it acceptable to ‘corral’ the older members of our society. We would not, perhaps, accept these types of living situations so easily for other age groups, so why do we readily allow special areas for the elderly? Is it because of the profit that can be made from their perceived need?