Life’s many benches

We all age – with or without grace. Everyone feels free to benchmark our performance, and age is often the preferred metric.

The comments and comparisons start in our childhoods. They range from how much we have grown to how well we do this and that compared to our age-mates.

This goes on until our early teens. Then we become surprisingly mature, or immature, for our age, unless we’re just typical teenagers, whatever that means. As we turn twenty, our goals are either commendably clear, or lamentably unclear, compared to those of our peers.

In our thirties and forties, the comments move on to the family we have, or don’t have, and the career we have, or don’t have. It may not be as overt as before, but we are still placed in age-related slots by people all around us, and compared to the norm at our age.

Most of us just let the comments flow and move on with our lives. Birthday parties are always welcome, but few consider their age a critical benchmark metric at this stage.

The older we get, the more the age jokes start piling up. In many countries, turning fifty is a milestone worth celebrating. The jokes are plentiful. “Your closer to a hundred now,” is just a mild taste of all the fun to be had with our age.

This is when many start telling themselves – and everyone else – that age is just a number. Which it isn’t, of course. You’re now closer to the finish than the start of life’s marathon; unless you’re one of the few that live past a hundred.

Some wake up in their fifties, do some quick and dirty benchmarking, and conclude that life could be greater. They then proceed to rectify the perceived problem with a vengeance. This same reaction can be triggered by anything from having kids to retiring too.

When people leave their families and friends to have “the best time of their lives”, it’s seldom done with grace. Few quick and dirty benchmarkings include the full cost of the damage caused to those left behind in the ruins of an earlier life.

A semi-famous (infamous) Finnish hockey player just felt the need to open up about this in his biography. He left his wife of many years to go to the local racetrack one day and never came back. He did it without a word; explanations just weren’t his thing.

Ageing brings out the worst in negative thinkers too. Just consider the saying “it can only go downhill from here”. If you have skied, you know that going downhill is great. There you are, on the top of the mountain; the sun is shining, the snow sparkles on the slopes; you push off, gain speed, feel the wind on your face – and just enjoy the freedom of the ride (a few crazy skiers and some hellish moguls aside). What could be better?

But this is not the “downhill” the negative thinkers are referring to, as we all know. To hear them tell it, our cups are half empty already, and things can only become worse as we age. Which is probably true, if we let ourselves go with their negative flow.

In our sixties, it’s not about what we have done “already” or “so far” anymore. Now the comments focus on “still” and “until now”. We are still active, we still look young, we still have our hair, sight, teeth, memory, and so on. The “stills” are endless, and they often occur in conjunction with “despite your age”. Some join the choir themselves, with “until now” and “at my age” stories.

Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer’s (controversial) studies suggest that changing what we think and believe can affect our bodies as well as our minds. Even ageing can be reversed to some extent, if we are placed in an environment that makes us see ourselves as younger than we are.

Who am I to dispute these findings, even if the study samples were small. I have yet to find a good way to make use of the information, however. In the meantime, I’ll continue to focus on the happy hour rather than the “stills”, “despites”, and “downhills”.

We all get age-related wake up calls at some stage. My call was more of a prolonged background beeping. It started when my parents passed away. My father went first, my mother joined him two years later. Both had set their sights firmly on living to be at least a hundred. Their passing before this milestone took me by surprise, despite their high age.

My parents aged with amazing grace – caring for each other, and others. They where always happy to see family and friends; it was easy to reciprocate.

I mourned them, and reminisced about the good old days. Then – out of the blue – performance anxiety hit me.

There had been minor spells of anxiety before. Growing up, there was always a test or exam to do well in, or someone to make a good impression on. Later there were jobs to be performed well, parenting to be done to the best of your ability, parents to be helped as they had helped their own, and so forth.

When my parents were alive, my life perspective was set at a hundred and more, because their’s was. My turn to age with grace on the second half of life’s marathon was far ahead. Until it wasn’t.

There is no school, course, or guidance centre for ageing with grace. Even if there was, do I sound like someone set to do so? Look no further than my pen name before answering.

I’m sure I’ll do it my way, but it won’t be song worthy. There is no need to bring out the orchestra. Anyone who feels compelled to burst into a song about how he or she did it “My way” is probably in dire need of some therapy anyway.

What if I mess this whole ageing with grace thing up? I can’t see myself doing anything like walking out to my yoga centre (no racetrack for me) one day and never coming back. I’m sure I’ll be back every time. I just hope my nearest and dearest will never have cause to see my return as the return of the bad penny.

There are two sides to every coin. If we’re not perfect, gracefully ageing parents, our children will be spared the stress of living up to our example. The things we do to make our children’s lives easier….

Maybe I’ll set up a guidance centre called “Choose Your Bench: Age With or Without Grace”. There is clearly a market niche, and there is only so much downhill skiing you can do.

2 thoughts on “Life’s many benches

  1. Anonymous

    This text made me think of an old French film called La Vieille Dame Indigne (the shamelss old lady), which a saw with a male friend in 1966. The said boyfriend did not understand the film – at all. Needless to say, the relationship ended then and there.

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