We may be getting older but don’t call us “old”

A few weeks ago, a number of “older” people (defined as near, at or over 80) of my acquaintance were given the following challenge:

As fellow members of a “Brigade of Elders”, I am soliciting your help and contribution to a project I am undertaking.

Like you, I am sure, I seem to be spending an increasing amount of my time contemplating what “getting older”, “ageing”, “old age”,​ etc, really means to me, my family and the people I interact with.

It occurs to me that I am lucky enough to have a number of thoughtful, intelligent and well-spoken friends in my age group who are still compos mentis – male and female, American and European – and I believe we all would be really interested in what each other thinks about our mutual situation.

Here’s the idea. Please send me ​your thoughts about age and ageing, getting older, the implications and effects thereof. It can be a few words or a few pages long – up to you​​.

Your submission will remain anonymous, because I want your open, honest and frank observations. But I will put all these contributions together, circulate the resulting composite​ to all who contributed and ask the Algarve Resident to publish selected comments.

I hope that readers of this article who fit the age profile would, in turn, send their comments to me (larry.hampton.37@gmail.com). I believe that many of you reading this are​ in the same boat age-wise, but I’m sure we each have a different take on life and I am equally sure that your input will be interesting, meaningful, and even helpful to others. Give it your best shot.

Following are some of the answers received. More will be published next week. The only changes I have made have been to keep the submission anonymous and to correct typos and mis-spellings:

An American man

When I still counted my age in single digits, I realised I differed radically from children my age and society generally in what they valued. Chasing the same mechanical rabbits they seemed bred to chase would not characterise my life, I decided; I knew I would have to be my own “best friend” and live according to my own standards and values. I am now 81 and given to retrospection. I believe I have fallen far short of the level of achievement to which my talents equipped me, but I also know that, given my penchants, much more luck would have been required than I was likely to have attracted.

Life has not been easy for me, principally because I stood tall instead of bending, but I am still my own best friend. I have made mistakes in judgment but I am not ashamed of my actions. For a man whom two women have eventually rejected because, they said, I live too much inside my own head, that has been a consolation.

Too often I find in my coequals disturbing evidence of “compost” mentis. Fortunately, my mind continues to work well and is avid to continue learning. I wish I had enjoyed the pleasures of love with more women. In the mutual satisfactions of physical intimacy, I enjoyed a purity of delight that went beyond what the brain could deliver. Those moments out of time exacted a steep price when they retreated. The analogous reapings by my mind, while less intense, have provided more lasting nourishment. Even so, all in all, I would have hoped for a better-calibrated balance.

I was a wise child and am now a wiser old man. Wisdom comforts loss and disappointment. Society defines success in life according to addition and multiplication; wisdom enables one to accept old age as a process of subtraction and division. I no more believe in a hereafter than I believe good is, or should be, rewarded. Life is all there is and, if cultivated well, all that is needed. And good is its own reason for being chosen. I see religion as a pacifier we are offered in return for submission to control. I wish to die a free man.

An English man living in the Algarve

My stance to old age: keep busy and have more projects than you can reasonably achieve.

The main problem is that time seems to pass more rapidly each year, and jobs that should be accomplished in short order take much longer. Hey ho. Keep drinking it while it’s still fizzy!

An American man living in the Algarve

It’s not about the aches and pains. Those are to be expected; the ante one pays to keep playing the game. Anyway, there’s not much that can be done about them, and the alternative is worse, so there’s no point in complaining. I’m like an old car with 300,000 miles on the clock – it thumps and rattles and groans, and has a plethora of rust spots, scratches and dents (each of which tells a story) – but the motor keeps turning over.

That’s what interests me – the motor. It seems such a waste that we spend our first 80 years gaining experience and knowledge, and perhaps even a modicum of wisdom, and then find that there’s not much that we can do with it. Our partners, if we have been together for any length of time, have already had whatever input they wanted or needed from us. Our friends are all in more or less the same position as we are. Our kids, loving as they may be, are too busy having their own experiences and gaining their own knowledge to be interested in ours.

This is what I find frustrating about old age. The old banger is gassed up and the motor is still ticking over, but there’s no meaningful place to go. And, who knows, the motor may conk out at any moment, which lends a certain urgency to using the time while I can.

If my father were alive now, there are many questions that I would like to ask him – questions I should have asked decades ago, but was too awed by him or too arrogant, cocky and full of myself to ask. I wonder if he felt the frustrations then that I do now. Probably yes, and he lived to 96, so that’s a long time to be frustrated!

People often ask me, would I like to have done anything differently, made different decisions, regret anything. My answer is always “no” – I don’t like to look back analytically and second guess myself. That’s not to say I did everything well. I certainly did not. But the past is what it is. It’s not going to change. All in all, it has been a great ride – and the motor is still running!

As Edith Piaf famously sang – “Je ne regrette rien”

By Larry Hampton