17 Oct A Gift of Ageing
First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 17.10.22
Our family is about to celebrate a 90th birthday and it will be the first one in a very long time.
There was probably a bit of a do when my maternal great-grandmother, Edith Rogers, reached this particular milestone but I was only two years old then and don’t remember it. No doubt it involved asparagus rolls and brandy snaps because in our family you couldn’t call it a party without them – still can’t, to be fair.
This dearth of 90th birthdays is not because we have a familial tendency to shuffle off our mortal coil prematurely – life expectancy on both sides of my family is generally well into the 80s. But this 90th sets a fresh benchmark, and it will be a delight to gather for Auntie Iris – my late-father’s youngest sister – and celebrate a terrifically good run.
I like the idea of 90 – it gives you reason to imagine a life might be made up of three acts, each of them thirty years long. You can think about what you did in your first 30 years, and then how much you’ve packed into life since, and feel quite chipper about imagining another chunk of life that size. Honestly, there might almost be enough time to get it all done. Though you wouldn’t want to dilly-dally.
The gift of youth, I often think, is that you don’t yet know that some things are impossible, so you launch yourself into ventures you might be wary of later. It can turn out they were possible – mostly because you thought they were. There is something to be said for being so young you haven’t had time to make a lot of mistakes. That youthful lack of cynicism is to be treasured.
Those of you in Act Two or Three – think about what you did in Act One, before you turned 30. I bet there was some wild stuff in there – stuff you might not do now, but which you don’t regret having a crack at then, and I bet a whole lot of it worked out really well.
As we get older, experience can make us risk averse. But it can also make us the other thing if we choose it. I have come to believe the gift of ageing is knowing in your bones that, if there is something you want to do, best you get on to it now. You become aware there is much less “later” than there used to be.
I have developed a taste for reading biographies and watching biopics – a thing we love to do, it seems, when we reach a certain age because, I’m guessing, as you start to feel the shape of your own life it’s encouraging to take a look at the shape of someone else’s.
I’ve recently watched two documentaries – one about Leonard Cohen, the other on David Bowie – and in both you could detect a time in their third act when they clearly had zero tosses to give about what other people thought of them. There was less anxiety – about failure, or anything else – and a palpable sense of nothing to prove and nothing to lose. Both those moments were followed by an intense period of creative output.
Self-acceptance is a glorious thing. It is also mercurial – you can have it on a Tuesday, and then wonder where it’s gone by week’s end. So perhaps another gift of ageing is learning to celebrate any moment of feeling comfortably and unapologetically yourself. Serve yourself an asparagus roll and a brandy snap. Make it a party.