How old are you on the inside?

Mar 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Personal Columns

The band played the old Martha and the Muffins song “Echo Beach”.  Taking off the jacket to dance, the 50th birthday receded over the horizon for a moment.  They play at the Druid’s Chair this Saturday evening.  There is a temptation to go along to recapture that sense of agelessness.

A lady in her late-90s defined the feeling succinctly, “The problem”, she said, “is that I don’t feel that I am the age I am”.

When she declared herself to be feeling tired one day, I said to her. “You haven’t been out night clubbing again?”

“She smiled, wryly, “The chance would be a fine thing; the chance would be a fine thing”.

A passage in the opening chapter of Milan Kundera’s Immortality captures that sense of timelessness that many of us have,

“She passed the lifeguard, and after she had gone some three or four steps beyond him, she turned her head smiled, and waved to him. At that instant I felt a pang in my heart! That smile and that gesture belonged to a twenty-year-old girl! Her arm rose with bewitching ease. It was as if she were playfully tossing a brightly coloured ball to her lover. That smile and that gesture had charm and elegance, while the face and the body no longer had any charm. It was the charm of a gesture drowning in the charmlessness of the body. But the woman, though she must of course have realized that she was no longer beautiful, forgot that for the moment. There is a certain part of all of us that lives outside of time. Perhaps we become aware of our age only at exceptional moments and most of the time we are ageless. In any case, the instant she turned, smiled, and waved to the young lifeguard (who couldn’t control himself and burst out laughing), she was unaware of her age. The essence of her charm, independent of time, revealed itself for a second in that gesture and dazzled me. I was strangely moved.”

Perhaps there are as many people who feel themselves to be much older than they are; perhaps if all the ages people felt themselves to be the aggregate would be no greater than the aggregate of people’s actual ages.

Purdue University research actually suggests thinking yourself younger keeps yourself younger:

“How old you are matters, but beyond that it’s your interpretation that has far-reaching implications for the process of aging,” said Markus H. Schafer, a doctoral student in sociology and gerontology who led the study. “So, if you feel old beyond your own chronological years you are probably going to experience a lot of the downsides that we associate with aging.

“But if you are older and maintain a sense of being younger, then that gives you an edge in maintaining a lot of the abilities you prize.”

The age you feel on the inside really does matter, which maybe explains all the moments of laughter with the nonegenarian lady.

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  1. That is why seeing the photos of ourselves comes a s such a shock – wo do not feel all those years and are surprised to see them. Somehow a mirror can still lie, but the photo is a hard-copy of reality.

  2. I’m not much into mirrors!

    There were stories that indigenous people in various parts of the world didn’t like cameras because they were afraid the camera could somehow capture the ‘soul’. The hard-copy is only one bit of the reality; there’s lots more to us than what you see. 😉

  3. So never judge a book by it’s (battered and wrinkled) cover!

  4. The battered and wrinkled cover may contain within it the words of William Shakespeare!

    I don’t understand the botox and nip and tuck philosophy – are they afraid the cover contains no more than junk mail?

  5. I agree with your final line. Do not go quietly… If it takes wishful thinking and some self-delusion, so be it.

  6. Someone recently offered to put highlights in my hair. I already have some. They’re gray, and I’ve earned every one of them! I’m a wrinkled, tattered, old book. But the plot has been great . . . . . . so far!

  7. There is a line from Bunyan about one’s scars being part of what commends one – I can’t remember it at the moment – anyway, I have more grey than you Gram.

  8. “My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who will now be my rewarder.” from Pligrim’s Progress????

  9. Thanks, it is, I remember using the passage at a funeral about twenty years ago for a woman who had gone through particularly hard times. I couldn’t remember it earlier – age!

  10. p.s. You may have more gray hair than I do, (I thought it was blonde from the distance!!) but I know I’m older than you are. 🙂

  11. I am now a paid up member of the natural hi-light club with etched trophies from the school of hard knocks very visible on my face for all the world to see. I hope the inner glow of the thirty something deep in my heart, smiles through my eyes to brighten a day and warm the heart of others about me. Only then will life be worth living.

  12. I think being a lifelong thirty-something would be a very good mark at which to aim.

  13. “My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who will now be my rewarder.”

    In that case, I’m due a nice reward 😉

    I stood in a supermarket queue today behind a chatty, grey haired lady who joked with me about today’s newspaper headlines concerning certain rogue bankers.

    I commented on the impact they’ve had on today’s young house buyers who are now caught in negative equity.

    She joked with me that she was thankfully past all that.

    I responded “but, you’re only as old as you feel” at which point she told she was 80 years old and still growing all her own veg!

    I was gobsmacked. I wanna know her secret!

  14. I was really saddened by the man from EXIT who told Miriam O’Callaghan about the woman who wanted to die because she had reached her 80th birthday.

  15. Ah I believe that. Thinking young, staying in touch, refusing to be a grumpy old woman or to grow old gracefully definitely keep me feeling young. I wish prospective employers had the same view of me that I do!

  16. Keeping your eye on that man keeps you young as well 😉

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