Help is an arm's distance away

What old age?

Was it Mark Twain who said that age is an issue of mind over matter, and that if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter?

I was listening to the weekend edition of the phone-in programme on the FM. In the course of the chit-chat, one caller confessed that he was old. The special guest’s comment was spontaneous: “but you are only 70! It’s not old!” Two calls later, another man, in the same age bracket, was emphatic as to why he was living alone and not with his children: “I don’t want them to be a burden to me! They have their own things to do. Why should I leave my house and join them? To be on my own there too!?” That was indomitable spirit at its best.

There is an 80-plus retired teacher in our neighbourhood. A widower, he has his daughters with him. If somebody mentions that it is good he is living with his daughters, he will immediately flare up and say, “No, it is they who are living with me!”

Such people never accept old age as a period of dependency or infirmity. In those DD days, my grandmother used to watch the English news every night and   would even enter into a wager with us: “Is it going to be Neethi Ravindran or Rini Simon?” Her objective: learn English. Reason: she smelled something foul and wanted to find out what her English-speaking daughter-in-law and grandchildren were up to!

This never-say-old attitude reinforces a sense of independence and self-esteem. Men parade it, but most women love to be pampered. Recently during a sathabhishekam ceremony, my 85-plus uncle was seen refusing a helping hand with a telling gesture while he was trying to get up after the customary abhishekam. His 80-ish wife would have cheerfully accepted it though.

I had witnessed a similar drama play out with my parents as the key players. I had once accompanied them to a friend’s house. My strong-willed 91-plus father managed to get out and was determinedly trying to stand up with the help of his walking stick. Recovering from a fall, he still required help for getting in or out of a car.

Fearing for his safety, our host stepped forward to hold his hands and there was the same firm gesture of ‘no’ from my father. On the contrary, my mother very happily put out both her hands and was pleased when four more came to her help. Isn’t it really amusing: a woman resorts to all kinds of cosmetics to camouflage her old looks, but has no qualms acting old, whereas it is just the opposite with a man?

‘Old’ is defined as ‘belonging to the past’, or ‘relatively advanced in age’. And people say age is only a number and that  much depends on the attitude. But judging by how people behave in old age, I believe you are old only after you cease to be. The actual physical age catches up with the defiant spirit only then, at least in brackets!

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