ON GROWING OLD

On GROWING OLD

I’ve been thinking about old age, and that we should be
trained in how to do it.   So much
training is given in how to do practically everything, yet it seems to me we
still arrive at the great changes in life more or less unprepared.

Few people, embarking on marriage, full of hope and good
intentions and anxious to enter into matrimony (even though they are warned in
the marriage service that it is an estate not to be entered into lightly),
actually have any idea of what is involved.
A good marriage is a bulwark
against misfortune, and a great source of strength and happiness, yet it nearly
always has to be paid for by some costly sacrifice somewhere along the way.    The participants have in our culture
generally chosen of their own free will, but they do not know why they have
made that choice.    The general bargain
(society’s expectations of marriage) is made;
a private bargain is agreed (eg one will work, one will raise the
children), but often a secret bargain is also struck, and what that is may not
be apparent in the beginning even to the bride and groom.

Few couples, gazing with delight into the cradle holding
their first born, and anticipating the joy that a child does indeed bring, have
a realistic grasp of the enormous cost that will be incurred.    The father may have to work for years of
unremitting toil to keep it warm, fed and educated.   The mother may spend her best years of
strength and beauty in the drudgery of its physical care.    In the end, the better the job is done, the
more carelessly the child leaves you without a backwards glance, and suddenly,
in your parental role, you are redundant.
You have to give up being the hand that rocks the cradle, or guides the
tiller, and watch from the rocky shoreline as your child launches their frail
craft on the dangerous waters of life alone;
and probably you have to provision the boat, and wave it off cheerfully,
stifling your anxieties.   Did you listen
to your parents’ advice?   No, you
didn’t.   You made your own mistakes and
if you are ever to be mature it is necessary that you do so.

Once your children have offspring of their own, they
become slightly more   sympathetic as they realise the enormity of
the undertaking, and that the best you can hope for is to be a good enough
parent.

As for old age, it snakes up on you stealthily.   I watched a recent programme on Prince
Phillip at 90 and had great sympathy for him.
Even though inhabiting a frail, 90 years old body, he still seemed the
same vital and exciting man the Queen had fallen in love with;  and certainly you could still see that in his
day he must have been one of the handsomest men to walk the planet.

Recently I chanced across a poem entitled, Beautiful Old
Age, by D H Lawrence (though one must point out that he himself died at 45 and
therefore had no personal experience).
I leave you with  the last few
lines.

And a girl should say

It must be wonderful to live and grow old.

Look at my mother, how rich and still she is.

And a young man should think, By Jove,

My father has faced all weathers, but it’s been a life!

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