A view from 80 | Sunday Observer

A view from 80

12 February, 2023

Malcolm Cowley, a distinguished man of letters, in his book ‘Life’ said he discovered a different life in the land beyond 80. When he reached 80, his relatives, colleagues and friends gave him a grand birthday party. He also received many birthday cards, gifts and a big cake. However, the cake had two candles indicating that he had reached early childhood!

These events can happen to anyone who manages to reach 80. This marks a new stage of life or the last act because you never know when you are going to bid adieu to your kith and kin. Without being so pessimistic about life, an octogenarian has something to be proud of. That is he has joined a select minority. Most of his contemporaries are either dead or bed-ridden.

In the United States, there are over 4.8 million octogenarians. Our Census and Statistics Department will be able to tell us how many octogenarians are living in Sri Lanka. According to a rough estimate, octogenarians are two percent of the population. With improved healthcare and medication, many more people are bound to join the minority provided they manage to escape hypertension and cancer which are silent killers.

I was fortunate enough to be in touch with a few octogenarians and nonagenarians. Some of them are still living. I am glad that they have accepted me as a member of the so-called ’80 Club.’ If you are an octogenarian, do not worry about life coming to an end sooner or later. Instead feel strong while sitting in an easy chair and reminiscing the past or dreaming about the future.

Old age is not something to worry about because it is only a costume you wear for the time being. It is true that you may be having some age-related problems or discomforts. If you still have the strength to walk with or without a walking-stick, do so for a change.

You are not destined to sit in a wheelchair and feel sad over missed opportunities. If you have a hobby, indulge in it because there is no one to stop you from doing so. A nonagenarian known to me still drives his tuktuk carrying his family members for various functions. He also goes for long walks despite his failing sight.

You may not be able to do stressful exercises. Therefore, go for a walk in the morning or evening. It is one of the best exercises for elderly people. Whatever you do, keep your balance because your body will always remind you that you are getting old.

Great readers

Even if you are an octogenarian, you can do certain activities profitably. Some octogenarians are great readers and writers. You can read their invigorating and analytical essays in newspapers.

When young people gloss over crossword puzzles, old people spend hours to do them. Even if you are unable to walk, you can read and listen to soothing music. Anyway, do not try to do what young people are doing. You have spent your youth fruitfully and there is no need to worry about it.

There are certain vices that come with old age. Move away from untidiness, avarice and vanity. Avarice is the worst out of the three entities. You may have come across old people hoarding money without enjoying life. Although it is good to save some money for a rainy day, there is no need to hoard. Money is a form of power. If you have money, you are powerful. When you have no money, you are powerless.

You may have seen many old people who are untidy. Some of them accumulate junk in their houses. You should always wear clean clothes and stay neat and tidy. If you become lethargic, even your family members will try to keep away from you. Some old people are afflicted with vanity. They yearn for recognition for what they were.

A beauty queen in her old age cannot expect people to admire her looks. Unlike others, some beauty queens become very unhappy in their old age. Sometimes, they try to regain their lost beauty through the application of cosmetics. As a youth, I used to admire a certain bodybuilder in our area and sometimes I envied his strong body. When I met him in his old age, he had lost all his good looks.

Old age is not without its intrinsic pleasures. An octogenarian can sit on the beach and gaze at the sea for a long time. On such occasions, he becomes a part of nature.

A youth will never be able to sit on the beach and gaze at the sea for a long time because his life is a battle royal. There are some octogenarians who accept old age as a series of challenges. For them, each infirmity is an enemy to be overcome. Most of the time, they will win the battle.

The celebrated painter Renoir continued painting even after he was crippled by arthritis.

He continued to paint with the paint-brush strapped to his arm. At 78, another well-known painter Goya became deaf and partially blind. Without giving up his career, he continued to paint wearing many pairs of spectacles. Despite his disabilities, he produced a number of splendid paintings.

Books on old age

Very old people have not written anything about old age. Most of the books written on old age have been produced by people who were in their 50s or 60s. The Roman Senator Cicero wrote the essay ‘De Senectude’ when he was 62. Emerson wrote ‘Old Age’ when he was 57.

When young people write about old age, their essays and books seem to lack realism. If you are unable to get hold of a book on old age written by an octogenarian or nonagenarian, try to meet very old people and talk to them. The general impression I have formed after my conversations with octogenarians and nonagenarians is that they are moderately cheerful in accepting handicaps.

It is refreshing to note that many old people have started new ventures. Some of them are full-time gardeners or writers. If every old person takes up a useful project, they will enjoy life and live long.

Your project should be big enough to demand your attention but not so big as to dishearten you.

You cannot bunch all the elderly people and give them advice. This is because they have been brought up differently. However, there are simple steps anybody can follow. Old people have nothing to lose by telling the truth. If possible, leave your candid thoughts in an essay or a journal for the future generations. Such an effort will not be in vain. [email protected]