It was close on twenty years since I had last seen him. Looking in the mirror, there was a sudden sense of myself having grown much older in the few moments that had passed since the last encounter; itself an occasion that marked the passing of a life. Growing older is inevitable; growing old is much more a matter of choice.
Thinking of growing older, happy memories returned of a visit to a Dublin house where two sisters sat looking through old school photographs. Faces from the 1930s stared at the camera with a freshness that could have come from that morning. It was hard to imagine that the lacrosse and hockey teams had probably been long ago called to a different league. The sisters thought they recognized some of the faces that stared earnestly at the camera lens; they had played tennis and hockey and gone horse riding, though neither had played lacrosse. The lacrosse team photo evoked memories of the old black and white Saint Trinian’s films; though the sisters might not have liked the comparison.
“My friend Kay used to play in that team”, said one sister pointing at the hockey XI. At eighty-eight, she was two years the younger of the pair.
“Where did Kay live?”
“Oh, she and her husband still live in England”.
The younger sister pondered for a moment, reflecting on thoughts of Kay.
“Do you know”, she said, “Kay and her husband took their car and caravan across to France every year until last year. I can’t think why they didn’t go this year”.
“Kay was in your class at school?” I asked, wanting to ensure I had understood the story correctly.
“Oh yes, we are the same age”.
It would have seemed the height of impertinence to have suggested that at eighty-eight years of age, Kay might have felt that her caravanning days were done.
It was a special moment. Watching the face of that indomitable little lady for whom age was no barrier whatsoever.
However much older looked the face that stared back from the mirror this morning, it is still thirty-seven chronological years younger than caravanning Kay and her husband. Kay would have been more understood in North America, where seniors in the United States and Canada assume that a full and active life is the norm until stopped by death, than on this side of the Atlantic where to be in receipt of a state old age pension is somehow thought to be ‘old’.
Being older is fine.