‘How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?’ (Satchel Paige)
It is a deceptively simple question that spotlights the conflict we have between the inner and outer perceptions of age.
When we are young we cringe when we are being patronised and talked down to. We hate being dismissed as children. We are more grown up than that!
When we are old we resent being spoken about as if we were not in the room – not competent to understand and make decisions. The faculties may have slowed down but the reservoir of experience and wisdom is unlikely to have diminished.
On the continuum from childhood to old age there is a point, the tipping point, we can refer to as middle age. It is characterized by the accumulation of learning, experience and life-skills combined with the desire to capitalise on these attributes. But, as the balance tilts, the energy to fulfil the wish is less readily available.
It is also the case that the speed of progress along the lifeline continuum varies considerably from one person to another, and the middle age fulcrum is seldom in the middle. Some take many years to develop their life-skills and may be heavily dependent on their job and the support of others. Without the stimulus, on retirement their energy level crashes, often to the detriment of their health.
Conversely, there are those who display the middle age characteristics while comparatively young and work hard to maintain their fitness and energy levels. They remain young despite the passing years.
George Burns, the American comedian once said, ‘You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.’
There is little correlation between ageing and chronological age, and yet we persist in using age markers as if they were sacrosanct and meaningful. At 17 a teenager can legally apply for a driving licence without any supporting evidence of competence. At 18 he or she can buy tobacco, alcohol, can marry and can vote. Yet I, and no doubt you too, have met 18 year olds who could scarcely cross the road without someone holding their hand.
Chronological age is an anathema – an ass!
The fairer sex have the good sense to hide, or even lie about, their age because they know that it affects how people behave towards them. I’m with the ladies! In future, when asked my age, I shall give the age I feel I am, regardless of what it says on my birth certificate!
See also It’s About Time!