Sun | Jul 15, 2018

Tony Deyal | Senior moments and hard cheese

Published:Saturday | June 23, 2018 | 12:00 AM

As I head seemingly inexorably towards my 73rd year and continue to write my columns, indulge my emotions on Facebook, laugh at the political jokes - elected or not elected - and indulge in a constant flow of outrageous puns, I get worried when I observe one of my contemporaries behaving 'old'.

"I guess I am having a senior moment," one of them said to me as he tried to explain his temporary inability to remember a name. He repeated that excuse like a mantra every time he could not recall something.

Frankly, he scared me, since I have always believed that "age does not matter unless you're a cheese". This quote from Billie Burke is also the name of a book of collected sayings from 'senior' citizens who continue to have their moments regardless. As the great singer Lena Horne said modestly, "It's ill-becoming for an old broad to sing about how bad she wants it. But occasionally, we do." In that sense, age is a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.

The real tragedy of getting older is that you stay young on the inside, but it is impossible for other people to know. A few days ago, a man about 30 or more years younger than me and with a stomach bigger than mine called me a geriatric who will die soon. I was not angry, perhaps because I have always believed that when you're over the hill, it is then that you begin to pick up speed.

However, this thing about senior moments or being geriatric can shake the self-confidence of my less resilient and pugnacious friends. I suppose that I could do a Robert Frost. The famous poet said, "I cut my own hair. I got sick of barbers because they talk too much. And too much of their talk was about my hair falling out."

On that basis, I should stop going to meetings, except that I continue to remain aggressively ageing. When anyone comments on my increasing hair loss, I should draw their attention to a truism, "Just because there is a hole in the roof, it does not mean that the fire inside has gone out; in fact, it burns even brighter." That stuns them for a while but does not stop them.

My own children joke that I should only pay the barbers half-price, and this disappoints me because I hoped they would be a cut above the rest of little hooligans.

One of my old friends who was trying to grow back some hair and was using Minoxidil did not remember that he had just applied it to his scalp and passed his hand over his head to smooth into place the little hair he had left.

It was a major senior moment for him because, as he said, "What happens if hair started growing on my palm? How can I explain that at my age?" Still and all, these senior-moment episodes are scary. For instance, I always knew that there are three signs of old age. The first is that you lose your memory. The other two I forgot.

 

Progressive discovery

 

What I remember is a cute saying, probably by an old farmer - the young sow wild oats, the old grow sage. As I grow older, I realise that sage old men should grow tomatoes because it contains lycopene, which helps to lower the risk of prostate cancer, saw palmetto (ditto) and prunes (rhymes with ditto).

However, what I grow is impatient. Some might say wiser, but another old-timer, Will Durant, the historian, admitted, "Sixty years ago, I knew everything; now I know nothing. Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance."

There are some things that you can get away with most of the time. Feminist and activist (I suppose for this generation they both mean the same thing) Maggie Kuhn believed, "Old age is an excellent time for outrage. My goal is to say or do at least one outrageous thing every week."

True to her philosophy, she once remarked, "I'm having a glorious old age. One of my greatest delights is that I have outlived most of the opposition." Conductor Pierre Monteux adds some spice to the issue about how old people should behave, "I still have two abiding passions. One is my model railway, the other, women. But at the age of 89, I find I am getting just a little too old for model railways."

Clint Eastwood, who in 1996, aged 66, had a daughter with a woman 35 years his junior, likened ageing to golf, "To me, life is like the back nine in golf. Sometimes you play better on the back nine. You may not be stronger, but hopefully, you're wiser. And if you keep most of your marbles intact, you can add a note of wisdom to the coming generation." Maybe if they get on his nerves, he can also tell them, "Go ahead, make my day."

I suppose this is a voyage of reassurance for me, looking for meaning and finding my own intellectual support group in what other people have said or experienced. I naturally gravitate to comedians like the irrepressible Groucho Marx who, at the age of 79, married his secretary.

Talking about dinner, he quipped, "Last night, I had a typical cholesterol-free dinner: baked squash, skimmed milk, and gelatin. I'm sure this will not make me live any longer, but I know it's going to seem longer."

But to get serious for a moment, perhaps to redefine this senior moment business, I like what Albert Schweitzer said and leave it as the penultimate word on the subject of ageing:

"The tragedy of life is not in the fact of death. The tragedy of life is in what dies inside a man while he lives - the death of genuine feeling, the death of inspired response, the death of awareness that makes it possible to feel the pain or the glory of other men in oneself. ... No man need fear death: He need fear only that he may die without having known his greatest power - the power of his free will to give his life for others."

That is why I have now come to the inescapable conclusion that old age is always at least 15 years older than I am.

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that he has finally worked it out. Old age begins when you start looking backward rather than forward. The whole idea of ageing is to grow up without growing old.