Bustling with resolve and determined to reach the top floor, X moved up the stairs at a brisk pace. His young companion was trying hard to follow him, but X showed no sign of running out of breath. Reaching the top, he looked back. His companion was still some twenty steps behind. He smiled with self-satisfaction, approached his seat and started sifting through the pages of his diary for the day’s engagement.
Old age does not mean that one should relinquish all sorts of activities and be confined to bed, instead of richly contributing to the peace and pleasure of the society. It is the age when one begins to grasp the realities of life. With mature outlook, one starts finding deeper meaning in the statements and writings. Personal experiences provide a saner glow to judgment. In other words, an aged person is in a better position to read between the lines. Knowledge accumulated over the years broadens the mental horizon and empowers a person to analyze the situations sanely and to draw logical conclusions therefrom.
Aging, no doubt, is a natural and inevitable process. Time keeps on moving adding candles each birthday. Slowing down of the metabolism and decrease in muscular strength is inevitable with the advancing years, but there are ways to age gracefully; there is the possibility of making the best of the time available; and for that, much depends on the temperament of a seasoned person. His or her attitude towards life, his or her daily routine, usual company, callous or humanitarian approach to social issues, all give color to his life. All such factors are important, but it must be kept in mind that almost all of them are controllable, with a little bit of effort. Attitude towards life can be improved by widening the sphere of one’s involvement in the affairs of the society. An aged person needs to step out of the spheres of his personal interests and enter into the arena of living for others. Such a step would also give rise to a humanitarian approach. You have the choice of picking the people for your company. Try to mix up with those who have a sanguine disposition. Small acts of cooperation, like depositing the amount of utility bills for your neighbors or sending a plate of cooked rice, can be extremely satisfying.
The first and the foremost requirement for pleasant living in old age, is the expression of gratitude, first to the Almighty Allah, for his benevolence, and to your kith and kin who brighten up your life with their consideration. Moping and grumbling for any injustices meted out to you in the past can yield nothing more than causing deeper morbidity, so why to waste your precious remaining moments in expressing chagrin or discontent at this stage. The available bounties are much more important and one aught to be thankful for them to those who were instrumental in bringing the blessings within your reach. People in the higher age groups have sufficient time to look around them and see what blessings have been bestowed upon them. They ought to realize that they are better privileged than thousands of people who are less fortunate and more vulnerable to the ferocity of time. Gratitude must spring from the depth of the heart for all the divine graces.
Another sure way of aging gracefully is to spend time in the company of the young people. William Blake’s poem ‘The Echoing Green’ provides ample clue to discovering the wholesome effects of the company of youthful people. Old people are transported back into time, when they are in the company of young people. They forget their actual state and burst out calling themselves ‘boys’ and ‘girls’.
“Old John with white hair
Does laugh away care,
Sitting under the oak’
Among the old folk,
They laugh at our play
And soon they all say
Such, such were the joys
When we all – girls and boys –
In our youth time were seen
On the Echoing Green.” (The Echoing Green by William Blake)
Such journeys, back into time, though transitory in nature, leave an extremely healthy and invigorating effect on the spirits of the old people and give them fresh energy to deal with the challenges of life. Teachers are particularly found to be physically more alert and energetic in old age than others because they spend more time in the company of the young.
In order to make up for the decline in energy level in old age, it is imperative that wholesome diet be taken. Small amounts of nutritious freshly cooked foods, with an adequate component of fresh fruit and dry nuts, taken at shorter intervals, provide the vigor to keep the body functioning properly. It is also advisable that older people have sufficient intake of water throughout the day, so that their joints remain well lubricated and toxins are flushed out through urine and sweat.
Instead of remaining confined to bed or propped in chair, older people must add more activity in their daily routine. Taking yoga exercises, particularly the deep breathing exercises can produce rewarding dividends to the physique. Adopt the habit of walking briskly instead of plodding, as it shows that a person is determined to enjoy life. Playing chess or scrabbles are activities which strengthen the mind. One is never too old to indulge in such invigorating activities. Light physical exercises induce sleep which has its therapeutic effects like giving the body the time to repair and rejuvenate all the bodily systems.
Set yourself some achievable goal even when you are fairly advanced in years. The thought of vying to achieve certain goals keeps the spirit high, and no goal is to taken to be the final. Nobody knows when his or her journey in this world would come to end, but as long as we live, we must keep on striving to be living for a purpose. Everybody can at least think of penning down his or her memoirs or sit in the company of kith and kin and narrate the memorable incidents in life.
Mark Twain once said, “Life could be infinitely happier, if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approached 18”.It would, no doubt, be wonderful because, in that case, we would be sure of moving to better days with the passage of time, but that’s just wishful thinking. It’s not possible. All that we can do is that we can indulge in fantasizing about the days of our youth. It won’t be an exercise in futile. The effects would be wonderful. Why to waste our time and energies in considering ourselves to be trite and redundant. God can still get some work from us. So cheer up and lead a jolly life.
(The writer himself is over eighty and is teaching at a private university in Lahore.)