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Friday, 11 January 2013 09:59

Dear Shakespeare – The bliss of ageing

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My dear Billy,
Have you noticed how much trouble people go through in order to look younger than their age? They will buy a whole paraphernalia of cream, powder, and other cosmetics for their face, body, hair, etc; just to give a lie to their number of years.
They will have regular massages, take aerobic and dance lessons, exercise, attend yoga classes, in order to keep fit and appear young. Every wrinkle on their face, the least hint of grey on their head will be cause for untold misery and resentment.

Blemishes are camouflaged and the ravages of age are hidden under coats of make-up in order to simulate the bloom of youth. This is by no means a phenomenon of recent times, my dear Billy. Queen Elizabeth I used an elaborate make-up. She applied red and white paint thickly to all her exposed skin, and the older she grew, the thicker the layers became. Her portraits show a mark of sovereignty, not the face of a woman. After she started to age, it is said that Elizabeth would never look at herself in a mirror; perhaps she looked at her portraits instead, which still showed her what she wanted to see.
You yourself never had the time to grow old, my dear Billy, having died at the premature age of 52. What a shame!

Shakespeare, and dying at 52? Maybe the Almighty didn’t want you to confuse your contemporaries and ages to come any more. People today simply refuse to grow old, that’s why you are often warned never to ask a woman how old she is. If you want to know a woman’s age, ask her sister-in-law. This caution is now extended to the male of the species.
Certain men grow old with hearts full of regrets for missed opportunities. Some stand stunned in front of billboards, or sit glued to pictures in magazines and in front of their television, admiring with delight mixed with nostalgia pictures of handsome men and beautiful babes advertising a number of articles and items.

However, my dear Billy, all this emphasis on youth is a sheer exercise in futility. I know what a misery being young can be, so don’t tell me it’s so great; all these kids who don’t know where to go with their struggles, their strife, their feeling of inadequacy, their sense that life is miserable, so bad they want to get rid of it. In addition to all their miseries, the young have very little understanding about life.

Of course, being young is good as long as it lasts. There comes a time when you have to call it a day and stop pretending to be young. It’s a battle lost in advance. The older you get, the better you get, unless you are a banana. As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed at twenty-two, you’d always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two.

Ageing is not just decay. It’s growing. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it is also the positive that you understand you’re going to die and that you live a better life because of it. The secret lies in ageing with grace. The older you grow, the fewer your needs. The worries, anxieties and uncertainties of the unknown are well behind you. You have no examinations to prepare for; you are far away from the rat race and the struggle for living and making it to the top. You are ready to live a happy, fulfilled life.

You have fewer responsibilities in the midst of the family as your own kids have become grown up and taken over. You have no office routine to attend to. With fewer cares and obligations you have more time for leisure activities like reading, writing, outings with friends, watching your grandchildren grow up. In a single day you can find yourself as small as your granddaughter, as adult as your son and discussing plans and projects expertly with him. You can also be attending meetings where your experience and advice is sought and solicited. Your age is respected and the wisdom you have acquired through the years is venerated.

You often hear the plaintive cry, “Oh, if I were young again.” You know what that reflects? Unsatisfied lives. Unfulfilled lives. Lives that haven’t found meaning. Because if you’ve found meaning in your life, you don’t want to go back. You want to go forward, you want to see more. If you are always battling against getting older you are always going to be unhappy because it will happen anyway, whether you want it or not, and eventually you are going to die anyway, whether you like it or not.

To know how to grow old is, I believe, the masterwork of wisdom and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.
Last modified on Thursday, 10 January 2013 21:11
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