Who or what determines that we are ‘old’?

I was in the middle of a conversation with a lovely young man the other day when he said something that had me burst out laughing – not at him but his comment. He had said that he often feels that he’s too old to change. My laughter was at the fact that he is in his 40’s and I am about to head out of my sixties so in that instant his comment had me asking the question – if he’s too old what does that make me?

We did continue the conversation for a while as he expanded on what he was actually meaning, that he can’t be bothered, and while he did, I had another question arise – who or what determines that we are old and what does old really mean?

After all any food that is left in the fridge for a few days past its use by date is considered to be old; we often class a car as old when we’ve had it a few years; clothes that we have kept in our wardrobe, just in case, are eventually considered to be old; so when do we as human beings actually become ‘old?’

So firstly, I decided to head to the dictionary to see what the accepted meaning of old is and what I read had me laughing and despairing at the same time as the understanding grew of the branding of being old.

The first definition was – ‘having lived for a long time’ which was acceptable to me, but it was the ‘no longer young’ that didn’t sit easily with me for various reasons.

But it was when I read through the synonyms for old that I began to cringe – there were some I could relate to like, mature, senior, aged, grey haired, full of years, but when I kept on reading and got to – in one’s dotage, long in the tooth, grizzled, hoary, past one’s prime, ancient, decrepit, doddering, not long for this world, senile, over the hill, broken down, wasted – I wanted to stop reading.

It sure had me wondering if I was living in oblivion of being old or that I was actually breaking the ‘old mould’ and that these meanings needed to be tweaked slightly to bring them into the 21st century, or in some cases deleted altogether, as, in the main, they don’t apply to me and they don’t apply to many people I know who would be classed as being old.

So, when are we officially considered to be old? Well the government of the country I live in has the retirement age as 65 so I wondered if we become officially old on that date or is it way before. Are we then labelled – date stamped – as being old? Does society now consider us to be old and therefore past our use by date, and so we start to feel the effects of the ideals and beliefs that come at us as we age. I know that some people have shared that they find themselves becoming invisible now that they are older – now that’s a very scary prospect but one that I haven’t experienced. Why would you want to ignore a person who had a huge amount of life experience to share with the world? That doesn’t make sense.

Slowly, I am starting to see that there is a huge and quite negative consciousness around being old and ageing which is set up to keep those in their later years from realising that getting older is not all downhill. I used to be one who was convinced it was, but not anymore. From my own lived experience I know that this time of life can be so full of amazing experiences, can be a time to share our lived wisdom with others, to support those around us and to really honour ourselves for  the life we’ve lived, even if at times it was not quite the life what we wanted.

So, I did some more contemplating and delving into what exactly is old to me? It didn’t take too long to remember that when I left my 10-year marriage at aged 32, I had a friend tell me in that in the last few years I was looking, and often acting, old. That blew me away until I realised that the way I had been living was obviously not only etched on my face but also being telegraphed by the way I had been moving fuelled by exhaustion, stress and sadness. My body wasn’t moving as a 32-year-old body, but one that was so much older.  It wasn’t too hard to then see that maybe the way we live has such an impact on our body and our mind that it is possible to become old before our time, just like I was. We just don’t take on being old, we move with it in every step.

I must own that I have been having some ‘maybe I’m actually getting old’ moments lately, the first moment of which occurred on my 69th birthday. An old friend, I don’t hear from often, rang me to say congratulations on my milestone.

What milestone I asked – turning 70 he said – to which I exploded with indignation saying that I was only 69!!!  He took some convincing that he was a year ahead of himself so sure he was that I was 70, but as I shared – I think I know how old I am.

I realised in that moment that I had some issues around turning 70 arising and that surprised me because I had really felt sure that I was embracing the ageing process. I have loved my 60’s. For me it has been a time of great change, a time where I have got to know me better than ever before, have learnt to care for myself more deeply and a time where I have really begun to love the life I am living, regardless of wrinkles, sags and aches and occasional pains. All of the choices and subsequent changes I have made have been an integral part of the way I now feel – much younger than ever. In fact, it feels like I am growing younger day by day!

And the funniest thing was that this happened at the time I was writing my blog – Why do we fight the ageing process? Naturally the blog went on hold until I began to figure out my resistance to turning 70 – was it a landmark that signaled that yes, I now am old or was there another more obtuse reason?

Coming to understand what it is to be old is still a work in progress, but as I creep day by day towards my birthday I know so clearly that I cannot be defined by a number or an adjective – in this case ‘old’ – unless I agree to do so – and quite simply, I don’t.  But at the same time, I am acknowledging that yes, I am turning 70 in a couple of months, an age that most consider old, but that I am still choosing to live a rich and full life.

Call me a septuagenarian if you like, and yes I have grey hair, which I love, but I am definitely not ‘in my dotage, long in the tooth, grizzled, hoary, past my prime, ancient, decrepit, doddering, not long for this world’ – although that last one is definitely an unknown, so a very good reason for living every single day to its fullest.

My exploration of what it is to be old continues and I will share it with you as my understanding expands, but for now I am making the choice at the start of every single day to live that day to its fullest and enjoy whatever comes my way. One thing I know for sure is that I am the one who determines if I’m old – or not!

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