Living backwards

'Second childhood' is not quite as pleasant as Woody Allen makes it to be.

In his inimitable style, the humorist Woody Allen outlines his hopes for the hereafter. It goes, in part, this way: ‘In my next life, I want to live my life backwards. You start out dead, wake up in an old-age home. You get kicked out for being healthy and now collect your pension. When you start to work, you get a gold watch and a party on your first day. You work for forty years until you are young enough to enjoy retirement. Then you get ready for high school, then become a kid and play. You have no responsibilities and then you become a baby until you are born. You spend the last nine months in a spa-like condition and then voila, you finish off in an orgasm!’

Amusing but impossible? Not really, for living backwards does happen for those above the age of sixty or thereabouts. Called ‘second childhood’, it has happened to me and is not quite as pleasant as Woody Allen makes it. The first inkling of the phenomenon struck me when crossing the road with my daughter. She held my hand securely in hers and issued a warning, ‘Keep your eyes open and watch your steps.’ The words rang a bell, for they were the ones I had used years ago when I had held her hand and she was just knee-high. As if to underline this, she added with fond accusation, ‘Remember you used to hold my hand so tightly!’

Many other signs too indicate that the clock has turned backwards. Your memory starts playing tricks. Every now and again, I fumble and stumble myopically for my glasses. They could be on the sofa, near the telephone or in the kitchen. I am often met with the words, ‘Why don’t you put them in the same place each time you remove them?’ Once again, the words have a familiar but embarrassing ring. I also tend to repeat pieces of information and am told with barely concealed impatience, ‘We have heard this from you already.’ Questions too are my Waterloo, as I am told not infrequently that, like a child, I ask too many of them. I am cautioned with time-honoured warnings not to indulge my sweet tooth and to reach home before dark. Fortunately, I am still in possession of most of my pearly whites, which means I do not have to depend on mishmash that infants survive on. Of course, a time may come when I am as toothless as a new-born babe!

There exists, however, a brighter side to this picture. You find that children welcome you into their fold and listen to your tales with wide-eyed wonder. Carefree hours are yours again. Your own children are anxious to shower the care and concern you gave them. You may well be as unsure and confused as they once were for the roles have reversed. However, you detect in their actions the mother’s touch that they once enjoyed. Indeed, In the poet’s words, ‘the child is the father of the man’.

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