When you are very young, forty seems ancient and grandparents are, of course, so old they are practically another species. Like dinosaurs…almost- but-not-quite extinct and very much at home in museums. Their homes bear the traces of a ‘bygone era’…you know, a whole twenty years ago… and it is impossible to imagine yourself walking in their shoes. Not that you would be seen dead in them…
I clearly remember my own feeling of awe when my mother reached the venerable age of thirty. I was already pretty much grown up… in my own eyes at least… and could barely conceive of a time when I would be that old. These days, of course, thirty is a spring chicken and even my grandparents would have been younger then than I am now. I remember too some years later when my great grandmother, well into her late nineties at that point, explained that she still felt 18 inside; it was only her body that had aged. At a little over half her age, I know what she means these days and I got to thinking about some of the other things my grandparents had said to me.
1. “I wouldn’t want to be 18 again…” Now why, thinks the youngster, wouldn’t you want to be standing on the threshold of life, with a body that works as well as it looks?
Too damned right I wouldn’t want to be 18 again says the older self… I wouldn’t mind bits of me turning back the clock to that particular decade. Mainly the ones that were measured in inches. But on the whole you can keep the teenage years. Too much angst, too many hormones. And anyway, every day is a threshold. And, the older you get, an achievement.
2. “It’s all downhill from here…” This one needs a certain amount of clarification. When they said ‘all’, they meant it. Back then I assumed they were speaking merely of advancing years. And possibly the inevitable descent of salient points of the female anatomy. Not everything from cheeks to hair.
On the other hand, downhill is always easier, more comfortable… and usually far more fun.
3. “Wait till you’re my age…” Been there, done that… what next?
4. “Wait till you have kids…” See above.
Of course, when those kids have children of their own there is both the joy of grandparenthood and the silent satisfaction that comes when you realise that you survived all the sleepless nights and the worry… and not only when they were babies either.
And now you don’t have to.
Then you get a dog.
5. “Youth is wasted on the young…” The old can be younger than the young. Youth has a brash self confidence that masks its insecurities. Time brings a ‘what the hell’ attitude that ceases to worry about society’s curtain twitchers.
6. “I’m old enough to get away with it…” Think purple hair. The unholy glee involved in doing the things your younger self would not have dared to do. There appears to be an exponential ratio between advancing years and the ability/desire to embarrass any of your children who think you should grow up. Also see above.
7. “What?” “Eh?” “What number is that bus?” You, of course, are never going to find yourself losing hearing or vision. You are young and indulge the ‘elderly’ fifty somethings with a certain amount of exasperation.
Wrong. Your hearing will diminish, if not in volume then in range. You won’t even realise you have been lipreading for years until you can’t hear the dialogue in that night scene of the movie. And if all else fails, your hearing will become selective. Because it can.
Your eyesight is a different matter. It is at this point the zoom lens on the camera comes into its own, allowing you to see both blurred distance and close detail.
The eyes on needles are now being made impossibly small and printing fonts are becoming unreasonably tiny. And no, you haven’t got your glasses because you’ve forgotten where they are…
On the other hand, you see more than you have ever seen before. Mainly because whatever they are up to, you have already done.
8. “They’re comfortable…” There are few things more elegant than an older person who has ‘made an effort’, few things more beautiful than eyes filled with knowledge and experience of life. Yet flatties and elasticated waistlines are your preferred style these days.
You’ve teetered around in stilettos (I’m probably talking about the women here) were in at the original birth of the mini skirt (applies in various ways to both genders) and you can still dress up with the best.
You are, however, no longer obliged to be a contortionist to get into skin-tight jeans, can choose warmth over style… or simply create your own. See point 6… and point 5 for that matter. And possibly point 2.
9. “Ouch…” (Or a variety of other groans, creaks and noises) Face it. Any machine is going to wear out; use it at maximum capacity and it will eventually become ‘loose in the joints and very shabby’. This is no bad thing. It means you have lived.
10. “I couldn’t care less these days…” This, of course, is something of a dichotomy. On the one hand most of the previous points illustrate that where the opinion of the world is concerned, this is actually true. This is the inner freedom that the years bring as their gift.
On the other, it is an out and out fallacy. You don’t stop caring as you get older, in fact, if anything, you care more deeply. You care about the changing world, seeing with the clarity of distance the follies of youth being played out upon the world stage. You have little patience for the posturing and jostling for position of the power hungry. You just may not shout quite as loudly about it. But then again, you just might.
You have seen enough to know what really is important… and those things you care about. You cherish friendship and companionship, your family and those you love. And getting out of bed in a morning.
11. “I remember when…” Don’t knock it. The elders of a tribe used to be valued. You have become a caretaker of the past, passing on what you have learned of the wisdom of generations. You become a walking Wikipedia. The original wifi. Here too the camera comes into its own, not capturing beauty, but memories to share; visual reminders for a time when the personal RAM (randomly accessible memory) is so crammed full of a life well-lived that retrieval becomes debatable.
12. “If I had known then what I know now…” What…no mistakes? Now where would the fun be in that?
Neil Gaiman, the ‘middle aged’ writer whose twitter handle famously states that he ‘will eventually grow up and get a real job’ says it perfectly.
“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.
So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.
Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”
There’s not a lot to add to that, is there?