Guess your age

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were? – Satchell Page

I love this one! I will declare to all and sundry that I am in fact 15 years old inside. It’s only my body that confuses people. So, if I didn’t know how old I am I would say 15. Now there are a whole lot of assumptions here. What do I think a 15 year old does, says, how do they act? What makes a 15 year old different to a 16 year old? How mature is a 15 year old? So if I ask you this question, I would need to know what your assumptions are of what constitutes someone of that age.

To me a 15 year old is fully grown physically, with some experience of life and outcomes but not enough experience or self restraint not to be wounded occasionally. They are intelligent enough to do anything they would as an adult but they make some dumb choices still, have fun, explore, love to learn and are full of optimism about life. They haven’t yet taken in the fact that it can be hard to be an adult, that life is supposed to be serious and full of responsibility and you should buckle down and spend each waking moment working out how to live your life in order to be safe and secure and have a good income. 15 year olds just want to have fun. 16 is an age where you are getting a little more serious. You can legally do lots of things like have sex etc. There is more expectation on you at 16. 14 is considered very young still, like you will be too far on the childish side. So for me, 15 is perfect. I do not want to grow up. I do not intend to grow up. I have adjusted my life to take on the pitfalls of thinking that way. I am pretty conservative in many ways, working at jobs that are too easy for me so that I am less likely to lose them, for example but my free time is just that!  Free; full of fun and silliness. I don’t care if I look stupid, with my roller blades and hula hoop.

Anyway I digress. So how old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are? I hope you would not look at your body before you answer. Anyone over a certain age feels betrayed by their outer shell. Of course some people get better looking as they grow older. Women may stop following silly hair fashion and instead find what suits their face. Men might look fantastic with a few grey hairs (so unfair) and become irresistibly attractive as a certain genre, a father figure type. I like to think that things have improved for me in some small way because I have learned how to work with my curly hair and I am no longer prone to spots, however I can’t deny the lines on my forehead and the mottled, loose tone of my skin. I cheer myself up by thinking that I will never look this good again as every day I am getting older. When I am 80 I will look back on photos of myself now and think how attractive I was and wasn’t it a shame I have lost my looks. So enjoy them now!!

So, back to the question. What else would come into it? If you answered that for me, I would first qualify what that age you reckoned you were, means to you. I think it is unlikely that anyone would say an older age, however we may feel that some people are older inside than they might appear. And how could that be? We have not yet been older than we are now. How do we know how it feels? We might feel really mature and wise and link that to the passing of the years, assuming we will collect wisdom along the way. What have we taken on from the media and people we know that suggests we think we know what it means to be old? My kids think I am older than God sometimes. Little comments drop out and they are immediately embarrassed and know it can sound hurtful.

I think the truth is that none of us know what aging really means. We only see the outer stuff and like to generalise about how bodies fall apart and sometimes minds also. But that does not have to be true. We are all so unique. My idea of how it was to be 46 does not match how I feel inside now, and nor will anyone’s. So if we all agree on this, how are we all blinded to what it means to be ‘old’? How can we change that? Become more optimistic about what is ahead? Think how popular that movie Cocoon was? There was the idea of old people becoming young again by jumping into a pool. The joy they felt? Can we capture some of that joy now by imagining ourselves at 80 suddenly finding ourselves back at this age? It is definitely in our interests as we all have that in common. If we are lucky and get to be ‘old’ we will see that it doesn’t compute at all.

There is a whole culture among different ages. My ex step mother in law was in her 70’s living in a retirement community in Florida and she would copy me in on her funny emails. There are no end of jokes about false teeth, golf, retirement, saggy skin etc etc. And of course it can be endlessly amusing as long as you accept it all and don’t take yourself too seriously. If you feel that life is good anyway and you minimise the effect on your life of the inconveniences of ages, then it is hilarious. It is only when you can’t laugh at yourself and don’t accept what may now be your ‘lot’ that you feel old. You think you should be something different. Don’t fight what is!

Actually sometimes I might say ‘I feel old’. That is generally when my body is giving me signals such as tiredness, aches, dodgy eyesight etc. In Club Med, Florida in 1998 there was a super popular stretching/yoga class taught by Jack England who was then in his 80s. He was as bendy as a human being can get. He attributed it to having a plane crash in his 50s which changed his life. He eventually became vegetarian and very stretchy himself by practising a little each day in front of the TV he said. What he liked to repeat most was something like “You don’t get inflexible when you get old. You get inflexible and then you get old”. So, by that thinking, if I keep up a little exercise and gently stretch myself every time I watch TV, can I ward off old age? I may look ‘old and crinkly’ but boy would people be surprised if I could do the splits! (Especially me, as I last learned to do them when I was about 9 years old and believe I was born without that gene). Tempting!

In Paris, 14 years ago I was alone in a cafe and a small, hunched octogenarian woman came in and started offering to read palms. The owners looked on fondly even though she was bothering some patrons. I said Non, Merci but as she was leaving she would not take no for an answer. She told me that I would live to be very old. Because her other (wild) predictions have since come true, I now like to believe it. Certainly the women in my family have made it to 90 and beyond but there is that small matter of being 15, impulsive and a little reckless at times. My driving is a little haphazard and I swear I have a guardian angel preventing all sorts of mishap. So I need to keep in some sort of shape to enjoy being so old. How will a 15 year old in a 100 year old body look? I hope I shall jump out of my own birthday cake and do the splits!

I hope you all (hehe, no one listening as yet) take the time to make your body match the age in your mind as much as possible. Skip and hula hoop if you are very young. Repeat whatever you used to do for fun in that magic age (28, 35, 45, 60?)

I was lucky enough to have a best friend for 7 years, whom I met out walking one day, before he died at age 87. He was 47 years older than me. I was 33 when we met. He liked me because I saw him as a ‘young’ person, and did not treat him as old, like his family who wanted to put him into the slot of grandfather. I liked him because he put things in perspective for me. He said his 40s were the best time of his life because he had some sense and insights but still had perfect health to enjoy it. He made jokes about now catching his reflection in passing windows and wondering who that old bastard was. He would regularly tell anyone whom he had to show his photo ID to, that it was actually his father but he gave them the wrong photo. He had such a glint in his eye!! I loved him. We had such different conversations than the ones I had with other parents of young children. He had been there and done that and had such tales to tell. John (Sheehan) was still sharp as a whistle and probably a genius. He never stopped doing anything – teaching, learning, laughing, walking, anything!

I also think it’s important to keep your mind sharp, to stretch it like your body and exercise it. I love logic puzzles and defend the time I spend on them. I loved them at 15 and of course I love them still.

I guess in conclusion if you can answer the question above then you should be at least doing what you loved at that age you feel inside, as much as possible. Live it, be it and surround yourself with people who ‘get’ it, who are young at heart also, who don’t judge by your age. You probably do anyway.

I think the people who are ‘old before their time’ are afraid, in a nutshell so they collapse their lives to get predictable outcomes and therefore have limited expectations. They may be a little depressed even. They won’t go places, try new things, keep learning or ever leave their comfort zones. If you are reading this I know that’s not you! Who knows what rubbish I will spout tomorrow?? But you are open to reading it anyway, and it hope it gives you something new to think about and exercises your mind a little.