An Ageing Ramble

“Act your age and not your shoe size!”

“Act your age and not your shoe size!” Mum would admonish me and my younger sister in our primary school years.

My younger sister had a comeback in the bag, with her little pixie feet below the standard shoe sizing chart: “I’m size 12!”

But my feet were like boats, landing me for shoe-wear big cloggy buggers, and sadly no comeback to accompany them.

You know what they say about big feet, though?

Interminable trying-on of different shoes to be worn for one school term before they chafe against the boat-feet outgrowing them.

“My mental age has remained at 23.”

Anyhoo, my older sister Annie gave me pause for thought the other day, about ageing.

Mum said Annie is “so young and lovely.” She is. From Mum’s point of view – who is about double her age, give or take – Annie is of course very young.

Annie replied, “Far from that”.

Partly modesty, yes, but partly because Annie genuinely thinks 33 years is an old age. From her point of view, it is old – in fact, it is the oldest she has ever been.

Annie has doubtlessly read this and cringed purely at the sight of the number 33. Approaching her 30th birthday, she asked us not to talk about it.

However, Annie informed me the other night, “My mental age has remained at 23.”

“It’s the age I had my first child. And that’s when I feel I became who I am. If that makes any sense.”

I find this amusing for some reason, but it does make sense, too. That is the age at which she came of age, as a young mother, and she still is a young mother, now of three. She is, in spirit, still that person; in the age of young motherhood.

Maybe when her kids are teenagers or flying the nest, a feeling of a different mental age may assert itself? It would be quite something to have the spirit of one’s twenties going into the dreaded forties.

Maybe it is not so bad a thing to feel mentally ‘in your twenties’: they are the years in which you try new things and figure yourself out and what you want in life.

To be fully grown out of your twenties might be monotonous. Maybe keeping this mental age is why Annie still finds the time to swim with me (or maybe she’ll do anything for respite from three whelps, even throwing herself in the wintry sea).

Annie asked me what my mental age is.

“I feel a kid some moments and an OAP the next,” I replied.

“Love old people and nippers, and wary of anyone in-between.”

I stand by this statement.

Here’s why.

For the most part, the young have youthful spirits, and the elderly old souls.

People animated by either a youthful spirit or an old soul – or even better, both – are the sorts of people you want in your life.

The spirit of youth

Naturally, youthful spirit saturates the young.

The spirit of youth is boundless enthusiasm and wonderment and creativity and joie de vivre; something to cherish and behold. The young are naively baffled and awe-inspired by the infinite potential of their own imaginations. Their thoughts and emotions are unregulated and immediate, they say what they think and feel in the moment.

Whilst I was writing this, an example and case in point surreptitiously arrived from my 5 year old niece using her mother’s phone yesterday afternoon:

What a brutally honest love missive, eh.

What is insignificant or meaningless to the adult is of inestimable significance and transcendent meaning to the child. This is why we enjoy seeing children at play. You just sort of watch them, transfixed, like a campfire or a sunset. It is numinous and it is innate.

(This is why I can never fully trust people who ‘don’t like children’: it is like saying you don’t like sunsets and campfires and snow and beaches and forests and life and joy.)

The old of soul

Naturally, old souls tend to inhabit the old.

An old soul is calm and experienced. Steady. Little surprises or offends or impassions them. They have seen and felt life to the extent a human life can. They are unfazed.

Old souls seem like they have lived life to the extent that several humans lives can. Some Eastern religions believe souls are reborn, until such a point that they have experienced and evolved enough to merit ascension to a higher state of being.

One needn’t subscribe to any religion to see that there are people whose souls seem older, more experienced, more wise than others, and vice versa. The degree to which this is the nurture versus the nature of a person is unclear, though we now know much of our temperament is in fact innate.

Old souls acknowledge death as well as life, and are acutely aware that their own life is limited. They understand the impermanence of everything, so they cherish the little things; not from the position of utter abandon like the youth, but from the position of an aged and contemplative appreciation.

I thought this at Age Concern’s Christmas lunch, at which I was a waiter. Geriatrics and OAPs saying, “Yes! I’ll have a sherry!” Pulling their Christmas crackers with their neighbours, freely starting conversations with waiters, blowing up balloons and releasing them to fly in the direction of staff, chirping away like only old souls and youthful spirits can.

Age is just a number

A strapping lad I met in Latvia told me he doesn’t like how people refuse to own their age. The kind of people who on their birthday declare, “I don’t feel my age! I may be 40 but I still feel 20!” That kind of thing.

I agree with him. You are the age you are, why deny it? Why should celebrating the most natural and immutable cosmic process – the passing of time, and with it ageing – be rued and regretted? To think ageing is sad is to think life is sad.

There is no reason why someone cannot proudly and happily be – God forbid! – 60 years old and spritely and content, young of spirit and old of soul. To such a person, the issue of quantifying the time since arriving into life would be irrelevant, because they are busy living life, not saddened and annoyed by the inevitable passing of it in temporal terms.

During adulthood, your physical age gives only a vague indication of your health, happiness, spirit and soul. The number of years one has lived tells you little of how life has been lived in those years, the contentment and happiness and meaning therein.

Young spirits and old souls have hope

It is my conviction that the young of spirit and old of soul are best equipped to resist resentment and anger and hopelessness, though for different reasons. This power is invaluable in lockdown, when it is becomes easy to lose hope and patience, in the throes of cabin fever capitulate to anger and annoyance.

The youthful spirit has a naive optimism and hope and faith. The youthful spirit will think nothing of trying something new, embarking on a project, taking up an old hobby, without a thought as to the reasons why they shouldn’t. They get lost in things.

The young of spirit have a hopping hope, like Tigger, innocent and well-meaning, pure and naive. Though it’s sometimes necessary, it feels cruel to crush this sort of sun-will-shine optimism with cynical reality; like telling children that Santa isn’t real and they are all going to die one day.

The old soul has a weathered but not beaten view of things, maintaining optimism and hope because they are old and experienced enough to know that wallowing in resentment and decrying a situation does little to improve it. Indeed, it often does the opposite, to the individual and all in contact with them.

Not naive, the old soul acknowledges that times will be tough, that tragedy will strike, and indeed that everyone will die one day. But they know that hope and joy is catching, and to be the vessel for the forces of chirp and optimism is the best thing one can do at any age.

Be both young of spirit and old of soul.

The youthful spirit stamps through a muddy puddle without a thought for the clean-up required. The old soul smiles and reminisces, and happily cleans up the mess afterwards knowing it was worth it.

To have both of these aspects residing within one human, or balanced within a family, is the dream state, surely.

Losing one or the other could be messy or boring. Youthful spirits are nonstop and need perpetual stimulation. Old souls can be tired souls, content with routine and simplicities.

Losing both aspects, now that would be a tragedy. Losing the spirit of youth without an old soul to deal with disenchanted adulthood makes for a sad life; intolerably toilsome with little weighed against it by way of comfort or meaning.

Life to the disenchanted must seem mundane, morose, hardly worth the effort; neither inspiring nor understood nor appreciated. Faith not forthcoming in such souls or modern society, oftentimes you only need a tragedy and a vice in the mix to get a suicide the other end.

Joys and hope matter in tough times

Those who are imbued by a youthful spirit and have developed an old soul, they are not only better equipped to deal with strife, they are the people you want around you in tough times. No matter what age. It is only at the outer reaches of young and old that age matters at all.

The blessed ability to appreciate the little ‘mundane’ things, an ability enjoyed by the young of spirit and old of soul, should treasured in our testing times. By all ages.

Blessed are the young of spirit and old of soul, with muddied wellies and soaking socks, bringing joy and comfort and hope to us all in lockdown – and sod the miserable adults who say otherwise.

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