Getting old gracefully

by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

Charles de Gaulle said it best, "Old age is a shipwreck!"

Nonetheless we ploddingly do what we can to assuage the effect of universal and inevitable deterioration. Unlike children who have neither a past nor a future and thus enjoy the present (another of de Gaulle’s quips), aged adults seek to buffer the condition of the moment. Of course the effort is a sleeveless errand. As such one can only adjust as conveniently and with as much dignity as possible to the declension.

It perhaps palliates the aging process, or at least temporarily suspends its brutality, to contemplate whether we improve with age or whether we are deteriorating each day after we reach our potential peak. Even if we adopt the continued-potential perspective in opposition to the decremental theory, there remains the blunt reality that our knees don’t work as well as they used to. So much for the fine wine theory! The distinction between aging and adolescence isn’t after all a comparison of cognitive development. It has more to do with being regular (and in some instances being too regular).

If, as I say, the aging process has less to do with its intellectual repercussions and more to do with its physical fall-out, it is not toilsome to ferret out the many gyrations undertaken by both men and women to preserve their quondam youth. I have noticed a recent boom in so-called health spas which, apart from offering the standard manicures and pedicures, attract a large clientele for relieving massages, relaxing hot tubs and the like. The massages are further divided into numerous sub-categories reflecting varying intensities and additives (everything from mud packs to showering water and of course incense).

A more characteristic example of cosmetics is hair dying, an unfortunate regression which ignores the reality that gray hair softens. In keeping with that line of thinking, I confess I am always delighted to see a gray-haired lady who embraces maturity and perhaps sports an elegant stick as an accessory.

Certain men are dreadful examples of what not to wear in old age. I find the misappropriation is especially popular among those who have managed to maintain something resembling a sylph-like figure, though the sight of tight clothing on a creaky body is hardly fortifying.

If one accepts that personal adornment (and even plastic surgery) is not the answer, the automobile industry provides a springboard of opportunity. I have yet to determine whether there is an underlying sexual motivation or merely the desire to get what was denied in earlier years. I am here speaking of fast cars. It is however an adventure not to be lightly pioneered. Years ago spirited by an inclination to reduce capital costs, I made the mistake of ordering sight-unseen a Mustang convertible. I owned it for all of three weeks. Apart from the noisiness of the vehicle and its inability to climb even the most inconsequential hill covered in a skiff of snow, more damning was the fact that I was too fat to fit in it! Time distorts!

A less demonstrative palliative for old age is over-the-counter medicines. Have you noticed of late the plethora of advertisements for arthritis? In addition there is everything else imaginable, including sleeping pills, general pain killers, lotions for stretching the wrinkles out of your face, dietary supplements, all calculated to smother the symptom but not the cause.

For certain lucky octogenarians, travel becomes the nostrum. Customarily the congregation of travelers is under the umbrella of a society for the elderly which ensures that getting there, being fed and sleeping are accomplished with minimal effort, concern and distraction. Many of these enthusiasts think nothing of flying or boating to the most exotic places on the other side of the world.

The diminution of mind, body and time places a dense load upon us. In spite of it most of us seek to avoid being seen as indecorous. However futile our exploits may be, there is still essential meaning in getting old gracefully.