We were close. We laughed together. We talked and we discussed. We shared our secrets and our infatuations. We were together when we were happy and we stood by each other through sorrow as well. Virtually we lived together. Ten years back, that was my friend, my dearest friend and I called him Vroom. We were like siblings, but without the nasty stuff. It was all so beautiful. He was older to me and was caring and protective. He was my mentor and I always looked up to him.
Things changed when I got married. I found a greatest friend in my husband Ash. The old friendship lost its luster over a period of time and distance. I came to the States and he is back in India. We are still in touch and we talk often but now, we are no more than acquaintances. It was not too long ago, when I was talking to him on phone, and he mentioned that he is taking meds to lower his blood pressure and cholesterol. I was depressed to hear that. But I was devastated when he gloomily said, “I am almost 40 years old now; what else do you expect?”
I didn’t have anything to say at that moment. I was silenced. I couldn’t remember the lines by Mark Twain to motivate him- “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” There were other things that I wanted to tell him. I wanted to tell him about spirit, enthusiasm; about the difference between aging and growing old; about the love of life; about Uncle Ernie and Aunty Toyo; about the poem ‘Old Age’ by Edgar A. Guest. But before I could put my thoughts together into words, my attention shifted to International calling rates and I had to cut short the call.
Even after I disconnected the phone, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. His idea and his approach to getting old bothered me. His words kept echoing in my ears, “I am almost 40 years old now; what else do you expect?” Why is age such a big issue for some? Especially, for someone who is so dear to me.
“Age may wrinkle the face, but lack of enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.”
– Danish proverb
It frustrates me to see people in their mid 30s behaving like 80 years old. On the other hand I greatly admire the octogenarians who are full of life. They have so much to give to this world. They live and play like they are 30.
Aging and growing old are the two sides of the same coin. One side is its physiological aspect, which my friend Priti feels is happening every minute and we cannot control it. The most agreeable definition of aging that I found on the Internet is on ‘Medterms-Medical Dictionary’. It defines it as the process of becoming older, a process that is genetically determined and environmentally modulated. As my dad (in-law), Dr. Ashok Gaur, an agricultural scientist by profession, explains it, “Aging is a natural phenomenon, common to all living beings. Among the plants the seed starts aging soon after attaining physiological maturity while still on the mother plant. In animals the same progression starts as soon as the baby comes out of mother’s womb or hatches out of the egg.” That is the science of aging and I have no problems accepting that.
It is the other side of coin that is different for different people. I feel that one’s psychological feeling or attitude towards growing old is what makes or breaks ones life. I seek the help from Edgar A. Guest to express my views on this aspect. The motivational lines by this 19th century British born American writer is an alternative and more ‘scenic’ route to take you through the sentiments on feeling old.
I used to think that growing old was reckoned just in years,
But who can name the very date when weariness appears?
I find no stated time when man, obedient to a law,
Must settle in an easy chair and from the world withdraw.
Old Age is rather curious, or so it seems to me.
I know old men at forty and young men at seventy-three.
I’m done with counting life by years or temples turning gray.
No man is old who wakes with joy to greet another day.
What if the body cannot dance with youth’s elastic spring?
There’s many a vibrant interest to which the mind can cling.
‘Tis in the spirit Age must dwell, or this would never be:
I know old men at forty and young men at seventy-three.
Some men keep all their friendships warm, and welcome friendships new,
They have no time to sit and mourn the things they used to do.
This changing world they greet with joy and never bow to late;
On every fresh adventure they set out with hearts elate
From chilling fear and bitter dread they keep their spirits free
While some seem old at forty they stay young at seventy-three.
So much to do, so much to learn, so much in which to share!
With twinkling eyes and minds alert some brave both time and care.
And this I’ve learned from other men, that only they are old
Who think with something that has passed the tale of life is told.
For Age is not alone of time, or we should never see
Men old and bent at forty and men young at seventy-three.
I consider myself fortunate that I know so many people who feel that they will always be young in spite of the number of years that they have lived or will live on this earth. They understand the crux of the above quote by Abraham Lincoln. I don’t want to be old at forty therefore I build my life by observing and learning from these high-spirited people.
In my day-to-day life, I witness the love for life people have, in bits and pieces. Everyday on the exercise floor in the gym, I fall in love with the people of the ‘graying generation’. It is motivating to see them lifting weights and working out on an elliptical. For some of them even a simple walk is a challenge but they come and workout every single morning. There are others who amaze me by telling their age and I respond to them with my jaw dropped and eyes wide open “What? No, you can’t be that old.”
I am full of admiration for the seniors at the Senior Center who are learning something new. They still are eager and ready to try new skills. People in my creative writing group are a class apart. They love life and they love each other. It fills me with awe when Manuel shares his stories about his life and his beloved wife. Tina’s sense of humor lightens the whole room. And it goes without saying that their depth of knowledge gives me new insight every time I see them. These people are old by years or may be even slow too but they are like a good sparkling wine. They are bubbly and willing to accept the changes. My friend Aishwarya B. feels that that ‘s the evidence to prove their youthfulness.
I wish that all people have the same positive attitude towards growing old. As most of us agree, if aging is out of our control then why don’t we approach it like Uncle Ernie and Aunty Toyo approached it. They are my neighbors, a Japanese couple in their late eighties. They are so full of life. Once I went to park with aunty a couple of years back and she tried to climb the monkey bar, while I stood by the sideline. Although she made me a little nervous but I couldn’t help admiring her liveliness and energy. Both Uncle and aunty regularly go to gym to keep themselves fit and healthy. Uncle himself tends his garden, which by the way is the best in our whole block. Uncle reflects on his life and says, “I feel very fortunate that I was able to get to this part of my life. Today, I can sit back and enjoy watching my six grandchildren, as adults, putting their life together. And to make matters more gratifying, having the opportunity to have a great grandchild.” He dearly loves his family and his utmost desire is to spend as much time possible with his loved ones.
Like this eighty-five years young couple there are others who teach me a lesson about loving and living life till I breathe my last. My University supervisor Mr. Michael Du Bois and my father-in-law are on the same page of thoughts about growing old. They feel that they will though age but will not grow old. In Michael’s words, “Aging is inevitable and I can’t do much about it. But in my heart, I will still be thinking like a youngster and yes a pretty girl will make my heart beat an extra beat and for my wife a good-looking guy would do the same. A good joke will make me laugh out loud, and a good glass of wine will still stir my senses.” Way to go Michael. I hope all of us can have and enjoy same hearty laughter when we are in our eighties.
I agree there are some disadvantages to getting old. As my father-in-laws favorite verse suggests, “There are no free lunches in life,” old age too comes with a lot of baggage. Ones’ life gets a little complicated. Life scale needle moves from the action side to thinking side. According to Michael, “Aches and pains don’t seem to heal as readily as they once did; consequently projects that used to take a few days now take a month to complete. And let’s not forget the meds, another unfortunate sign of aging. In the old days, a vacation suitcase consisted of a pair of shorts, some tee shirts and underwear, and a few toiletry items. Today, you often need a separate suitcase for all the meds to keep your systems working fine.”
On the flip side these wonderful people in their golden years get pleasure from stuff that they missed while they were busy building their lives. There are some benefits of getting old as well. Michael Du Bois enjoys taking the senior concession, “I love showing my ID to get into the local theatre with a discount, or play golf at the senior rate.” They have the time to enjoy the calmness and beauty, which is there around us. They are out of the ‘rat-race’ and now they can make use of the time to take care of things that they were not able to do earlier.
My friends; the ones much older than me by age, shared the fun of having grandkids and great grand kids. I could see the elation when they talk about this special bond. It is a feeling of achievement that I cannot justify at this stage of my life. But this benefit of getting old is definitely worth the mention. Michael reveals his special comradeship with his granddaughter; “I like young people, especially if they are 5 year olds and related to me. Watching my grand daughter growing up is and has been one of the greatest treats in my life. I can only hope we can continue to enjoy this wonderful relationship for a long, long, long time.” My mother-in-law is always too excited to connect with my six years old. However unwell she might be, she is never too tired to talk to him or about him. May God Bless this wholesome connection between the grandparents and their grandkids.
“It’s important to have a twinkle in your wrinkle.”
There are others who have grown older before you. Be prepared and be proud of getting a wrinkle. It is not something new. It might be a new feeling to you but there are many who can teach you the techniques of conquering the inevitable gracefully. As Jacqueline Mutz, a writer and thinker says, growing old is the combination of state of mind and how well you are in mind, body and spirit. So I gather some tips from few of my energetic, jovial friends who know all about life. These will help us to keep our mind, body and spirits in good shape.
- My dad-in-law believes in trusting God and thanking him for all that he has given us. According to him, “We should always acknowledge the grace of Almighty.” He stresses on the fact that we should be enthusiastic about what we are doing and enjoy what we have.
- Uncle Ernie’s big secret is, “Share your love and happiness.”
- Fitness advice come from Priti, “you can control the getting old feeling by taking care of certain things in life. Basic needs are good nutrition and exercise and second order needs are feeling happy and motivated.”
- Michael feels it is a “healthy dose of humor” that is an answer to NOT GROWING OLD. In his words, “Aging is not for wimps, but surrounding yourself with people with positive attitude is the best antidote to feeling old.”
Do whatever feels or sound good to you. But make sure that you find something that you are passionate about, something that keeps you going no matter what. Do something that you like, make your wrinkly face twinkly and live happily thereafter.
“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
Vroom rediscovered himself and his passion. Every subsequent day of his life since he found his true self, he has woken up early. Every morning he puts on his shorts, t-shirt and his Action (brand name) shoes and goes for a 7km run. He rebooted his life and filled it with positive energy and happiness. He welcomes each day with a smile and inspires many others to do the same through his, “All Smiles Running Club.” This club is a charitable organization as well. It organizes sporting events, especially Marathons to raise funds for the welfare of poor, backward, downtrodden Indian villages. Vroom has many more things on his agenda that he wishes to achieve in this life.
Tomorrow is Vroom’s Birthday. He will be 43 years young and not 43 years old. I wish him all the best and may God shower his blessings on him.
My Sincere Thanks
I wish to thank my “boss”, my family and my friends who helped me come with the idea and shared their thoughts about this topic. I even wish to thank even those who didn’t share their ideas but at least gave a thought about it which was the purpose of this whole exercise. Special thanks to friends, Priti Agarwal, Aishwarya Balasubramanium, Dr. Reena Gupta, Jacqueline Mutz. Another inspiration comes from another dear friend of mine, Mr. Abhishek Gaur.
Mr. and Mrs. Inouye (Uncle and Aunty) you will always be my heroes. I am sure you inspire others too.
Michael, I do not put you on a ‘pedestal’, but I do admire your knowledge and your energy. I appreciate your help in every step of my life. Thanks once again.
I am lucky to have two dads (my father-in-law and my father) who are a big inspiration to me. I convey my special thanks to my father-in-law, Dr. Ashok Gaur whose knowledge, memory and attitude towards life astonishes me. “Papa, I love you.”
Loads and loads of thanks to my pride, my favorite characters of my write-ups, my little kids Sid and Saavi.
My dearest friend, my husband Ash is my biggest helper. He is my biggest critique too. None of my articles, or essays or stories is ever complete without his input. I thank god for giving him the strength and patience to go through my first, second, third… drafts. God, please keep up the ample supply of both these qualities in him. And give me the power and strength to keep coming up with these drafts.