Monday, 7 December 2020

Being young and growing old

 By most of us, ageing is still perceived as a downward spiral - and in many cases it is, when one's health is bad - I personally hate seeing images of my late mother when she was ravaged by her illness and have made it a point to collect pictures of her in which she can be seen in her glorious youth.

I recently had a spat with a friend because after telling him I wished I had the same emotional engagement I had when I was twenty-three, I asked him what he missed the most about his youth. He regarded my question as being a bit daft. 'Why I miss being young, it's obvious". No, actually it is not obvious. A lot of people think of their youth as a period of intense suffering or hardship and are happy to have overcome it. Some other people, like me, do not wish for a younger appearance - I like myself and my body now, though I wish my knees were a bit stronger and that it did not take me so long to warm up when exercising.

Children by Lana Jo

 But I miss the intensity of the feelings I had when I was twenty-three. I was very much in love, back then, the kind of love that envelops you, and makes you wake up every day feeling intensely happy and thinking that life is indeed most wonderful. It was my own experience of love, not the relationship itself - to be honest, my then-partner was happy to be with me but did not feel the same intensity and a couple of years later we split up. 

I never felt like that again - of course, I have loved many more times, but never with that all-consuming passion that I felt back then. And that is what I associate with my youth, a freshness in the way one approaches interpersonal relationships, the sense of wonder one feels concerning the world. 

Perhaps feelings about youth and growing older are best expressed by the poem 'After a while', attributed to Veronica B. Shoffstall but which is apparently a part translation of Jorge Luis Borges' 'Aprendiendo' 

After a while you learn the subtle difference,
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul.

And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning,
And company doesn’t mean security.

And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts,
And presents aren’t promises.

And you begin to accept your defeats,
With your head up and your eyes open,
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child.

And you learn to build all your roads on today,
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans,
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn,
That even sunshine burns if you get too much.

So you plant your garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure…

That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth,
And you learn and learn,
With every goodbye you learn.

There are grace and beauty in growing older, and we should aspire to the serenity of old age even while appreciating the turbulent passion of youth. And those of us who retain a sense of wonderment and a child-like quality even in their older years, are blessed.

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