We all wish to live long lives, but none of us wishes to grow old. Contradictory, but true. The fact is we can do both, live long and not grow old.
The number of years need not make you old. Age is only a three-letter word. It is not the enemy. It takes nothing away; it only adds dividends to our dignity, sagacity and strength.
We cannot stop living, but we can overlook a few wrinkles, a little absent-mindedness and keep on living to the fullest, for each day is the first day of the rest of your life.
Now you are even better equipped to deal with life’s many surprises, its ups, downs, joys, and sorrows. You have completed a course on the art of living.
The end of life can in effect be a beginning.
Many who have come before us have inspired us with their zest for life, their acuity, ingenuity and vision.
Late bloomers found out that life indeed did not start till 40, as subscribed by the famous adage: “Life begins at 40,” and even later nowadays, 50, 60 or 70. It is said that 70 is the new 40 and judging by accomplishments of many today it may well be true.
Retire at 65? Retire to what? This is the season to learn —and young or old, we must never stop learning.
History is replete with the contributions and legacies of men and women who found fulfilment during their later years.
Winston Churchill, at 76, was re-elected British prime minister for the second time.
How about our inundation of news about two septuagenarians who were running for the presidency of the US? Any objections? Such people retain their enthusiasm, waking up early, staying up late, working non-stop and excelling in their old age.
Artists like the great Dutch painter Rembrandt (1603-1669) never stopped painting and produced his best works after 40. The legendary Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa, (1910-1996) arguably one of the most important filmmakers in the history of cinema, spent six decades producing his masterpieces.
We just lost the quintessential James Bond, Scottish actor Sean Connery at age 90. He continued to work until age 75, not because of his age, but because “of the idiots now making films in Hollywood”.
Who can compare to the myth, known as Picasso (1871-1973)? Painter, sculptor, ceramicist, theatre designer, print-maker, he was 65 when he painted “Guernica”, his masterpiece, and 87 when he produced 347 engravings. He started at 13 and never stopped creating, innovating, experimenting until his death at 79.
If this is turning out to be a list of inspiring humans, so be it. What better inspiration than passionate workers who find joy in what they do until the end of their days? They were too busy to notice, the years were flying by.
It is hard to find late bloomers except in literature and business.
Harian David Sanders, better known as Colonel Sanders, founded Kentucky Fried Chicken at 63.
J R R Tolkien wrote the first volume of his fantasy series Lord of the Rings at 62, and Ferdinand de Lesseps began to construct the Suez Canal at 74. At 88, Michelangelo created the architectural plans for the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. So, what is age but a number?
If Grandma Moses, who could no longer embroider because of her arthritis, could pick a brush and paint, without any training, so can you. She was 76. Her first painting was sold for $2. For the next 25 years she produced over 3,600 paintings. In 1941, “Sugary Off”, one of her paintings, was sold for $7.2 million. She died at 101.
Our own legendary painter Salah Taher continued to work and exhibit until his death at 96.
Growing old is optional. It is up to you. They can be the best years of your life, if you wish it. You are never too old to do something, or to start trying.
You can have fun at any age. It is not the privilege of the young only. Many wise old men think youth is wasted on the young, so they seize it for themselves. “Never have I enjoyed youth so thoroughly as I have in my old age.”
Nothing can make you feel younger than love. Love is blind — has no age limits. Go out, socialise, meet new people, fall in love. It is ageless. The Guinness Book of Records lists the oldest newly married couple, George and Doreen Davies. He was 103, she was 91, and they lived happily ever after.
We define mental age as a measure of a person, not the date on his/her birth certificate.
It is true that ageing causes the brain to shrink and there are changes at all levels from molecules to morphology. A healthy life, both physically and mentally may be the best defence against the changes of an ageing brain.
So much is spent on keeping our appearance young, but who are we fooling?
We all strive to forestall death, but to look younger is nothing — to feel younger is everything.
University College of London surveyed 6,500 men and women about “How old do you feel you are?” Who were still alive eight years after the study? 86 per cent of those who felt younger.
To feel young at heart is worth all the Botox shots, the beauty products and the surgeon’s knife.
“It is better to be 70 years young than 40 years old.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly