The Years Of Our Lives
I was blessed to be a baby boomer.
If like me, you can remember those flash American cars with huge chrome tail fins, which I learnt to drive at the age of 11 on the deserted desert roads and tracks of The Middle East. If you can remember staying outside playing all day, riding your bike in the street. If you can remember playing marbles and collecting cigarette cards. If you can recall the sound of those old piston engined aircraft droning overhead that took several days to take you to the other side of the world. Then for those who lived in post-war Britain there was the bomb sites, those grease-stained ration books in the kitchen drawer, with its ounce of butter a week; cushions made from black-out curtains, a loo at the end of the garden, snowball fights in the park, watching the Queen’s coronation on a tiny black-and-white screen, a sixpence for pocket money, learning your times tables by rote and hearing Bill Haley & The Comets, or Elvis for the first time. If you can remember these things, then like me, you are getting on in years and approaching those much read about and dreaded, ‘Autumn or Golden Years’.
To deny any of this would be to deny the richness of an era that began in the post war gloom, that gave us The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Ban The Bomb, jet aircraft, the Cuban missile crisis and witnessed greater change than any other period in history. Those years of the 1950’s and 60’s ushered in the flower power and Free love of the late 60’s and early 70’s, (and arguably the best music of the century !) all of which largely still shapes our world and society today.
It is often said that “age is just a number”, but we all know that’s a load of crap. Ageing in all its physical, mental and emotional challenges is all too real; we take with us into these autumn or Golden years the experiences, good and bad of it all – we are therefore, the sum total of those experiences.
Like folks of a similar age I have lived through exciting and amazing times, yet still relish the new ones that are presented to me on a daily basis and look forward to the new ones still to come. I have, I suppose, been exceptionally fortunate to lead what some might consider a blessed and truly exciting life, having experienced much of what this amazing world has to offer. Age is a state of mind — that’s for sure. We can’t, as Dylan sang, be ‘Forever Young’. We can however be forever lively, enthusiastic and importantly, engaged in life. One of my oldest friends who recently entered that dreaded 8th decade has decided that life is now over for him; in his mind being 70+ is just so damned depressing. Speaking to him regularly, I have sensed that the light is slowly, but surely going out in his soul. Yet I have another expat friend, a few years older who is thoroughly enjoying what he is doing, is active, engaged and is enthusiastic about his life and what lies ahead for him.
No guessing which attitude I admire and try to emulate.
Whilst the years on the body clock do undoubtedly take their toll; like well used and worn machines, we do need to go into the shop more frequently for maintenance. But the real years are reflected on the mind and the heart – if we allow it!
The challenge facing all of us of a certain age is to transition into this later stage of life gently and without too many pitfalls along the way … and that has to be achieved through the body, mind, spirit and heart. It is surely daunting, but change is constant and must therefore be embraced – otherwise we psychologically, spiritually and physically die.
I won’t pretend I like wrinkles, the beer gut, the fact that I can no longer ascend the stairs 2 or 3 at a time, or that my hair is now a solid white, albeit fortunately still thick and hopefully lustrous. Being determined to make the most of yourself is the outward sign of actively engaging with life. Why give up because of minor physical limitations and become one of those whose let themselves go? While it’s important to look after the body, more than ever I realise the importance of nurturing the mind. Becoming a dedicated couch potato in front of the TV is an offence against the mind, just as eating dreadful junk food is a crime against the body.
These past few years I have had a regretful epiphany with regard to my family and travel. Although it is incomprehensible to me, they simply have no desire to travel, discovering other parts of this wonderful world of ours. The Scots have a saying, “it’s beyond ma ken”, meaning that it is simply beyond my terms of reference. Why wouldn’t they want to venture out from the safety of their sofa in front of the TV, which I have come to regard, along with soccer, as the opiate of the masses. I grew up with no TV at all, first in the Middle East and then in 1950’s Britain, when we simply did not have one of these new fangled contraptions for many years. I sometimes wonder what the youth of today would do without one?
Feeling engaged with the world is essential, although it can make us furious and angry at the shear stupidity of much of the world’s population, particularly the politicians. On that note I believe that all politicians should serve two terms, the first in office and the second in prison! We need to engage and challenge our brain cells on a daily basis, it’s a free and easy choice for us all. Thanks to my grandmother, who introduced me to the joy of written words and literature, I have been an avid reader all my life. I still devour at least one book a week on a variety of subject matter, whilst reading the international press on a daily basis. I still maintain a lively curiosity of the world around me. An exercised mind will never truly grow old.
Then, of course, there is the spirit, the very essence of our souls and with whom to we go to sleep with every night. There was a wonderful line in Billy Joel’s ‘My Life’song, “… you wake up with yourself…” Although not a particularly religious soul, I am reminded of a passage from Corinthians. “No wonder we do not lose heart. Though our outward humanity is in decay, yet day by day we are inwardly renewed. Our troubles are slight and short-lived; and their outcome an eternal glory which outweighs them far. Meanwhile our eyes are fixed, not on the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen: for what is seen passes away: what is unseen is eternal”.
That just about sums up my attitude to ageing … the keystone of which is the accumulation of wisdom. When asked what degree do I have, I always answer that I have two, having attended two separate universities. The first to obtain a standard academic degree and the second in which I have PhD – the University of Life, the lessons of which were both good and bad. Wrinkles may line my face, my hair maybe white, and the sorrows and stupidity of the world may afflict my mind; but yet if I allow it, my spirit can float free, high above these inconsequential concerns.
Unless you consciously cultivate that thought, growing old will probably be miserable at best, tragic at worst.
Like all of us, I have fought against the ageing process, we all want to be young and free again, but deep down we all know that’s impossible. We all do things to convince us to turn back the clock; take up skydiving, rock-climbing, learn to ride a motorbike, set up shop with a woman 30 years our junior and similar age defying activities. The reality of life’s lesson is that we can always re-invent ourselves – but maybe we shouldn’t be trying that hard.
This then is the time to start focusing on the inner life. It’s important to be able to accept the loss and non-realisation of dreams, otherwise we become weighed down with regret, which will ultimately consume us with bitterness. I assumed my first marriage would last into old age and I was totally convinced that the second one was definitely, “until death us do part”. I was wrong about both! The thoughts of retirement all those years ago, were romanticised, I thought I’d ease off work, play more golf, become a peaceful grandfather and finally write that novel. None of that has happened, nor is it likely to, as retirement is not for me, because I still have too much to do and experience.
So having decided that after a mainly happy marriage of nearly 40 years, should I remain in this state of semi-consciousness and even limbo. I would become one of those sad and frail old farts, facing an existence of shuffling around an old age home on his zimmer frame. This is not part of my plan. God forbid that I should ever get to that dreadful state, I will instruct those nearest me to pull the plug … Alt-Ctrl-Delete – solves all the problems!
And although I do probably now have a somewhat jaundiced view of marriage, I am not, I feel certain, finished with love, neither in its physical or emotional and disorderly form – nor it with me.
I am reminded of a conversation many years ago whilst in Havana on assignment with a good friend, a Vietnam Vet, which went something like: “… we don’t know when our part in this movie of life is to be terminated by the Grim Reaper. You can’t at that time say, “sorry, can you come back later, I still have a few things to do, like visit another dozen or so countries, or write a book or two!” Or in my buddy Dick’s case, “Hold on there fella, there’s another 2 million women I haven’t fucked yet, can you come back in another lifetime“.
So I feel lucky that I still have the mind of a 25-year-old, albeit that it is trapped inside the body of a 70-year-old, and will continue to pop a cork in the celebration of life every chance I get. Each and every one of life’s vital lessons is still as relevant as ever. I’m sure that I’ve changed and evolved over the years in so many ways, but hopefully not in essence. Deep down I still feel like a young adventurous expat who needs to go out and explore the world, meet new people, work hard, learn new things every day, prove myself by contributing to the world around me.
It is that knowledge that feeds my heart and mind, enabling the Spirit to grow. But the important paradox is that I, like us all, must be ready to accept change right until the end … after all that what aging is about; whilst simultaneously accepting that some things cannot be changed.
So we must live the life we have, not the life we imagined.
As I have gotten older, I have strangely developed strong, if not real committed thoughts regarding religious / spiritual beliefs. I’m not sure what I really believe, but because I can’t think of a better, richer blueprint for living. ‘Love thy neighbour’… what other philosophy could save the world? Oh, I have strong doubts, but do try to live my life in a committed to humanity sort of way, whilst giving thanks for what I have and not regretting what I don’t have. Meditating on the simple blessings of life and the joy of the natural world and its people around me, an international perspective has taught me to have a deep respect for my fellow human beings, irrespective of their cultural, ethnic, social & religious backgrounds. I want to continue to learn and contribute, continue to help me grow & better understand this world, whilst listening and learning from the stories of others.
That gratitude for a life well lived gives me hope and strength. In these the ‘autumn / golden years’, I mentally balance daily losses against gains – on balance I would like to think that I’m ahead in those stakes.
Sadly some of my friends and peers have passed on and that lends urgency to each remaining minute, so death comes into those thoughts on an ever more frequent basis – which I suppose is not overly surprising. I am no longer young, but do not yet consider myself old. I have however reached the age of wondering how long I have remaining and what I will do with that time. Hopefully it will be many more years, as I still have in abundance a desire for life in all its aspects which and will hopefully stay with me until the ultimate, but hopefully not bitter, performance appraisal.
I do know at least that I still need to work, not only from a financial perspective, but also to keep the dreaded spectre of boredom from the door. I also want to read, think, write and learn more. But more importantly, want to spend time with interesting people in interesting places, learning new things, drink more beer to help the new knowledge stick. I am desperately aware that like us all, I do need to maintain a daily interest – something to get up for each morning. At the end of the day, that is perhaps my biggest fear, not to have that simple daily motivation. In my opinion is probably the primary motivator that keeps us going as we get older … and that is something that I shall vociferously continue to seek.
There are I am sure, more adventures out there with my name on them in as yet unexplored lands. My task surely is then to seek them out and embrace them before it becomes too late, or the senior moments of memory lapse become too debilitating.
I am always cognizant of that we don’t get a second chance of this life and as long as the will, health, energy, money and probably most importantly the curiosity of the world around me continues to drive me. I therefore intend to see and experience as much of it as possible and to live it in as ‘large’ a manner as is reasonably achievable, and will, Inshallah, maintain what many would consider a crazy gypsy lifestyle. I am reminded of a line from the movie ‘Once Around’ with Richard Dryefuss and Holly Hunter, where the hero says, “This is my adventure and nobody can take it away from me!”
Life is all about the journey – never a destination. Too many people make that mistake and then wonder why they are never happy, as they bounce from one “when I get that position …”, or, “once I have that” to another. As I’ve gotten older, I have realised that materialism is a dreadful and non rewarding road to follow !
Take life it as it comes, good and bad. It never came with a written guarantee or warranty that we can take back to its maker to get it fixed. We are our own fixer in this life and that’s one of the single biggest problems in the world today – people don’t take responsibility for themselves. (Look no further than Africa !!) I hate those that regularly trot out, “…it’s not fair” or “it wasn’t my fault” as an excuse for their own inadequacies and mistakes.
I would hope that thus far I have found meaning and inspiration in living and the enjoyment of life, in trying to fulfil to my potential, whilst taking in the wonders of nature and the marvels of the cosmos around me.
Each and every day we face continual challenges, cultural, social along with so many other, but surely that’s all part of life’s rich and ever-changing pattern. But as we age, the greed for life of wanting to do, see and experience everything is perhaps now tempered by a new sense of calm – and so be it, I can live with a slower tempo. I am ever cognizant of the parable, as reiterated in both The Bible and The Qur’an when Moses led The Israelites out of Egypt and were left wandering in the wilderness for forty years searching for The Promised Land. It is said that God provided them with Manna from heaven each and every day, but only sufficient for their needs of that day. The wonderful thing about this manna was that it tasted like anything that they wanted it to taste of. Each had their own particular favourite and preference.
Life is still like that today, each day we get our share of manna (whether it be from heaven or not I leave to your own thoughts and persuasions) in the form of a new day. We do with it as we want … it is therefore our choice if it tastes like caviar or shit – our very own decision and nobody else’s. I for one will continue to thrive, be fascinated by it and feed on that same manna every new day.
I hope that each and every one of you reading this somewhat introspective, and some might say depressing missive, are able to embrace and thrive on that daily manna that is delivered to us all each new dawn.
Live well and long.
The author can be contacted at : [email protected]