Updated: Jan 30, 2021
It all happened on one day this month: after reflection on the day, I came to the conscious appreciation that, despite avoiding the issue for some years, I AM OLD!
Early morning banter with my wife: ‘Please make less noise when you get up to pee – you woke me four times last night.’ ‘Why are you walking bent, like an old man this morning?’
Then, during the course of the day: ‘Sorry, sir, the cut-off for funeral policies in 65 years.’
On the market survey form that landed on my desktop: I am in the last of the chronologically listed demographic group: >65 years old.
‘Molo, baba’, said the petrol jockey. After a brief conversation on the irritation of dry lockdown, he concluded, ‘Eish, umdala, you are right.’
On my way to the shops, an attractive 40-ish year old woman stood back and invited me to exit the lift before her and her teenage children.
At the entrance to Pick n Pay: ‘You can queue over there, Sir, and be the next to enter the store.’ I maintained my place in the <65s queue.
‘Oubaas, het jy ‘n bietjie kos vir my?’ asked the homeless man when I exited the shop.
“Rog, Let’s meet for lunch at Kirstenbosch on the first Tuesday after lockdown’, said Derrick, my septuagenarian friend, knowing that there is no entrance fee for the over 65s on a Tuesday.
After a brief discussion on the upcoming board meeting, the African CEO said to me, the chairman: “Thank you, Uncle Roger”.
As I took a 20kg bag of wood out of the boot of the car: ‘Ek sal die sak houd vir oom dra’, offered Johan, my enormous neighbour with hair that is greying on the sides.
My finance advisor: You wife is older than 65, so her tax threshold for 2020 increased to R128 650 … you can increase her salary.
‘Love, I didn’t get a roasted chicken from Woolies. I forgot to add it to the list. Sorry, I’ll cook dinner.’
An ex-colleague: ‘Roger, I hope you are not leaving the house during the new lockdown? We’re in the vulnerable category.”
Another ex-colleague asked: ‘Would you like to join U3A?’
‘Anne, what’s the name of the person who sold his soul; and his portrait aged while he lived the high life?’ It’s an Oscar Wilde short story ….
Grandad, are you an antique?
My experiences that day provided me with comprehensive, combined assurance that I am old.
Biological reality was clear: I was in the COVID-19 vulnerable group of > 65.
Society’s conventions and etiquette confirmed that I am old: witness the comments of the petrol pump attendant, the beggar, the polite woman with teenage kids, my considerate burly neighbour, and my delightfully impertinent granddaughter; the security guard outside my local Pick n Pay, and the colleague who invited me to join the University of the Third Age (U3A).
Then society’s laws, regulations, and rules knocked in the final nail. Freebies for oldies on Tuesdays at Kirstenbosch. Even market researchers lumped me in the demographic category of 65 to death. My younger wife has reached Otto von Bismarck anachronistic retirement age of 65. I am beginning to hate that number.
Now the psychological / cognitive evidence. Yes, short term memory lapses do occur. How could I not recall Dorian Gray – I have had Oscar Wilde’s Complete Works for 50 years for heaven’s sake?
The combined assurance that I am old did not come as a shock, nor am I depressed.
“Simply put I want to grow old,
Dying does not meet my expectation”
Pavement,“We Are Underused”
Yes, death is the final act of life. But growing older is not dying, although the former will lead to the latter.
Older people who maintain high levels of mental, vocational, and social activity are happier, healthier, and live longer than those who do not maintain their activity level – and they enjoy superior wellbeing. I’m going for that: am looking forward to the adventure of growing older and hope I am not robbed of the dignity of dying well.