Op ed

NIGERIA: Why is growing old is such a pain?

Old peopleMy boss had a roving eye. One day, many years ago, we were driving to some place, just the two of us, and he indulged in his favourite past time. He glanced at every passing lady – I was the one driving – and if the frontal view satisfied him, he used the side mirror to check the posterior.

Once or twice, I found him cranking his head to have a better look – obviously not satisfied with the side mirror. This was when, as if to explain his actions, he said ‘middle age is bad.

It makes you yen after young females’. He was then in his mid 50s, and I distinctly remember thinking to myself ‘you are not middle aged. You are old’. To me then, young was 20s and 30s, middle age started after that and ended at 50.Anything else was old.

Now that I am passed the age my boss was then, I find I can not call myself old. The term ‘middle age’, now seems appropriate, if flattering. My eyes also seem to linger a bit longer at the passing young females. It might not be with lust or anything,but you have to admit that there is something about curvy girls in high heels, short skirts and plunging blouses that reminds you of your youth.

And, disconcertingly, there is something about the way they walk pass you as if you are not there that reminds you of your advanced years. And those that bother to acknowledge your presence curtsy respectfully in greeting. And you wonder; are you wearing your age so clearly on your face and on your clothes?

You remember those years when you entered a party or a hall and you were ‘checked out’ by the ladies almost as much as you ‘checked’ them out. How did young blur into middle age and old so quickly?

I was at a mid-day mass recently – you know the mass that most Catholic Churches have dedicated to working professionals and those who have chosen to spend their lunch time with God – when a pretty lady in her late 30s sat next to me.

The whiff of her strong perfume announced her presence and dared me to ignore her. I had to remind myself that I was in the house of God. When the time came to obey the priestly injunction to offer each other the sign of peace,

I had to turn to her. With a small smile playing on her lips, she extended her hand for a handshake. As our hands made contact, she muttered ‘peace of the Lord be with you’ and curtsied!!! You know, the way you do to an uncle or dad.

I have also noticed that people I deal with from time to time have gradually changed from addressing me as uncle to calling me daddy. These changes have been so subtle that you can’t put a finger on when it all started.

You still feel the same. You still wear the same clothes (maybe that is the problem). Maybe you now feel some pains occasionally, other wise you are fine. So why is society treating you as old?

The funny thing about age is that most of us have been in denial most of our lives. When we were young, we liked to be seen as old and matured. And now that we are older and more matured, we like to be seen as someone younger.

We long to hear the words ‘you look good for your age’. Or ‘you don’t look your age at all’. Or ‘is that your brother or your son?’.

The game we play, we ‘middle aged’ people when we have not seen each other for a while, is to say ‘you have not changed at all’. Not changed in 20years? Common!! Its good to hear, but the mirror you see everyday tells you that you have changed.

And speaking of mirrors is one reason I don’t like gyms. Most gyms I know have bright lights with mirrors and mirrors on the walls. They also seem to be peopled by younger men and women. So its your grey hair against their black hair; your flabby, inelastic skin against their firm, shining skin.

And the bright lights – with the mirrors – emphasise the contrasts between you and them to the extent that you some times wonder what you are doing there. Worse, the young ones, your gym mates, might also wonder what you are looking for and if you are trying to seek the elixir of youth.

In spite of all these, I don’t feel the need to be 30 or 40 again. I admire the fact that they can still dream and have the energy and vigour to pursue them. I have had my dreams and been lucky to pursue most of them. Besides, one can still dream in old age; only the nature of the dream changes.

When I see a young man in his 30s, I see the insecurities, the uncertainties about the future. I see the determination— and the fear —  not to disappoint parents, spouses, and children that must depend on them. I see cross roads and turnings that they will have to manouver.

Even the parties, revelries and night clubs don’t hold any special attraction for me anymore. Been there, done it as they say. Funny, I seem to like the new me in my old, wizened skin.

And does the fact that I now consider any outing outside 10pm to be a late outing mean, finally, that I am old? Or am I still middle-aged?

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