I have a birthday coming up. It’s not a significant one. It doesn’t involve any zeros. But as the big 50 looms in the not too distant future, I am increasingly fascinated by how relative youth is.
Yes my 25-year-old friends can trip the light fantastic until the small hours of the morning – but that’s no great achievement in itself as I could name a number of friends in their seventh decade who can do (and do do) the same. If I have a couple of late nights in a row, I feel the pain. It takes me longer and longer to recover, but thankfully, I’m not yet at the stage where I’m ready to hang up my years and stay home.
I am fascinated by the diversity of age between those I count amongst my friends. It runs the gamut from 22 to 97 – a span of 75 years. And while the cultural references differ (I had no clue who Blur was, but I don’t think that’s an age thing – it’s just a me thing) and occasionally divert conversations as they have to be explained, it’s marvellous to think that age no longer defines people.
I can remember when 50 meant twinsets and pearls, or at the very least, sensible heels and a perm. I have a vivid recollection from primary school of one of my friend’s mother – a woman who had short spiky hair and wore long skirts and dangley earrings and high heels and looked so unlike any other mother in the village that I used to wonder if she really was one. I can remember times when ‘the young ones’ continued on through the night while the ‘ould ones’ went home. I can remember a youthful deference to anyone old enough to be my parent that went hand in hand with a reluctance to engage with them as an equal.
Fifty is no longer old – it’s the new 3o; 70 the new 50. Style is no longer the purview of the young (I’m mad about these NY women). And far from defining us, age is something we seem to have mastered. I think all of us have a mental age in our head – I know I’m stuck at 32. That was a year when life stopped still long enough for me to catch up with it. It was the best of times and the worst of times. It was marked by a very reluctant acceptance on my part that I was growing up and growing older, an acceptance I thought (and still think) could be mitigated by refusing to grow any older in my head.
When I see an old person now, it’s not their age I recognise, it’s their attitude to life. Some people are old at 30; others are still young at 80. And I intend to be one of those.
The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been. Madeleine L’Engle
This week, I’m grateful to those who have years on me for reminding me that life is there to be lived; and to live it I need to be in the thick of it, not watching from the sidelines.