“Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.”
IT’S a funny thing ageing, it creeps up on you when you’re not looking, then... boo! You’re not young any more.
You don’t even think about it from one year to the next, then, suddenly, boom. Someone dies, or has a baby, or you realise something you thought happened last Tuesday week has featured on 'Reeling In The Years'.
Milestone birthdays don’t help, I was 50 this year and it triggered a lot of thoughts about life, ageing, and the Grim Reaper.
Then again, they say old age is always 15 years older than you... so, if you’re reading this (assuming you remembered where you left your reading glasses) and you’re 75, then, sorry, but to me you’re old — although, to you, only someone who is 100 is old!
On the flipside, 35-year-olds reading this (almost certainly online, rather than in print), think I’m a fogey who should be put out to grass.
Weirdly, then, in my 50-year-old eyes, Roger Daltry — The Who singer who famously stuttered his way through My Generation in the 1960s — is officially old, as he is 75. Ditto Diana Ross, Mary Robinson, Gladys Knight, and Michael Douglas. All 75, all fogeys, to sprightly little me.
I had one of those ‘where has the time gone’ moments a few months ago, when an old guy called Colin Thackery won the TV show Britain’s Got Talent.
Colin warbled through a song tribute to his late wife, dressed in the red uniform of a UK Chelsea Pensioner, medals pinned smartly to his pristine tunic.
I remembered seeing these guys at war commemorations in my childhood, when they were mostly made up of World War I veterans.
Colin was referred to as a war hero... and I realised, with a jolt, that this elderly man before me couldn’t even have taken part in World War II. At 89, he was a mere callow youth of 15 when that conflict ended.
It turned out that Colin was a hero of the Korean War of the 1950s, a noble enough battle at the time between the free West and communism, but hardly as evocative as D-day in people’s minds.
I did some more maths, and concluded that any soldier who even took part in the final year of World War II must now be in their nineties. Age shall not wither them indeed.
It’s been a bad few weeks for older people, as the younger generation, instead of starting new dance crazes and moping around the house accusing parents of being “so unfair”, have formed themselves into a movement agitating for action on climate change.
With 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg as their lightning rod, they have been accusing older people of wrecking their planet, their futures, and perhaps also their ‘buzz’, whatever that is.
Make no mistake, when the fiery Greta accused world leaders of stealing her dreams and childhood “with your empty words”, she was effectively addressing all the planet’s adults.
And when the planet’s best-known and least-loved septuagenarian publicly snubbed her, it seemed that Greta was standing up for the vitality and energy of youth, and Donald Trump was representing the arrogance and closed minds of older people.
The older generation stood accused of a litany of crimes: Being selfish, consumerist, and driven by money, destroying the planet, and failing to heed the siren voices of scientists and the younger people who, we were told, stood to lose the most.
Well, this week, even on a small scale, the older generation struck back with their finest weapons of all in the face of mounting hysteria: Wisdom, calmness, a sense of humour and — something sadly lacking in the climate change debate — optimism for the future.
On Monday, this newspaper published a remarkable supplement by Sarah Horgan, called Forever Young, which was a brilliant celebration of Cork’s older citizens. It was timed to coincide with Positive Ageing Week, and is aimed at showing that older people have a crucial role to play in modern Ireland.
The Echo supplement was a salutary reminder to all, especially young people, that older folk can and do have full lives. Their experiences matter, their opinions matter. They offer far more to society than just a free babysitting service!
There was the guard who took up acting at 50, the 92-year-olds who had been best friends when they were separated at 12, and had been reunited in the nursing home where they both now live.
There were stylish senior models, a Cork athlete who is setting records at 83, and a couple married for 70 years offering relationship advice — and who better?
Sarah Horgan said her mission statement was that your life can start at any time.
“My hope with this supplement wasn’t just to make older people more visible. What we really want is to start a revolution. So, as Ireland’s real capital, let’s lead the way and shine the spotlight on our inspiring elderly community.”
The next night, Echo columnist Michael Pattwell, an admirer of Great Thunberg, also spoke out for older people everywhere who he felt were being wrongly scapegoated for all the woes of climate change.
After all, he pointed out, older people today, growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, barely put a dent in the planet’s eco-system, compared to modern youngsters with their gadgets and smartphones and school runs in their parents’ diesel-puffing people-carriers.
The RTÉ Today Show marked Positive Ageing Week by conducting a poll: ‘Ireland’s workforce is getting older, with 20% of workers now aged 55 and over, compared to 10% back in 1998. Is this a positive trend?’ it asked viewers.
More than three-quarters of respondents said yes. And why wouldn’t it be a positive thing? Many younger people lack the work ethic of their older colleagues, are inclined to hop between jobs, and some can’t face a shift without inhaling caffeine from an environmentally-unfriendly €5 cup.
It’s strange, and a little unsettling, if truth be told, that young people, who are supposed to be eternal optimists, are now so pessimistic.
But’s it’s not strange to see older people embracing life and a joie de vivre, and having an optimistic outlook, even though common sense says their time left on earth is far shorter.
In recent weeks, we have been told that young people have all the answers and that old people should listen to them.
Sometimes, it needs to be the other way around.