“Young for ever” is the new anthem of my generation. As a baby boomer I have had it pretty easy so who would not like to keep the good times going? Every time someone remarks I don’t look my age I join my generation’s belief that I can defy the passage of time and remain young forever. We all know that today’s 70’s are yesterday’s 50’s! It’s a fashion that I join almost unconsciously when choosing clothes and hair style. Medicine and cosmetics also promise ever lasting youth through many pills, supplements and procedures. We are a generation intensely hyperactive, on a permanent quest to learn and better ourselves. I have friends in their eighties that are hard to reach as they are always taking courses, learning new languages and travelling to the “1000 places that must be seen in one’s lifetime”. By the way, I am also trying to learn Japanese. Of course it’s all wonderful but I question sometimes the motivation behind that flurry of projects, the urgency not to miss the next activity or product. It is said that boredom is the worst enemy of old age, after fear of sickness and death. Boredom, that old demon hidden easily during our active years, now sticks its ugly head.
In our quest to remain forever young could we be missing a very important stage in our life? The Greeks called it the “great age”. So how do I become old gracefully? I think honesty has a lot to do with it. Nobody likes a fool old woman hanging on obsessively to old memories. Letting go, that pending subject, becomes at this stage a necessity if I want to remain sane. But once I let go of much of the running around that kept me busy in the past I find myself with… time. Bertrand Russell said that idleness is one of the privileges of old age. Indeed, it is a privilege to play with time. I can stretch it in the pleasant company of good friends, for example, or I can transcend it when I watch in awe a beautiful landscape. When I was young I fought constantly against nature rhythms which I always found much slower than my schedules but now because I have time I can slow down and be. The result is that I am more present, it’s better for my health and I am more aesthetically graceful, yes, more beautiful! Real idleness of course needs patience, another of those virtues that used to escape me and patience is at the heart of compassion. So who said something was lost?
Epicurus was convinced that the great age was the zenith of life, its best moment. This quote is attributed to him: “It is not the young man who is happy but rather the old man who has lived well. The young man, full of vigor, makes many mistakes while the old man has safely reached the harbor and anchored his goods with the means of gratitude.” I can see myself sitting in a small cafe in Greece looking of my anchored ship in the harbor, enjoying gratefully the sun and a coffee and feeling perfectly content, something I was not able to do till recently. Plato also was convinced that the great age is the ideal time to study philosophy. Interestingly enough, a study from U. of California in San Diego* says that, neurologically, a slower brain is a wiser brain because those parts of the brain connected with abstract and philosophical thinking are free from the disturbing effects of the neurotransmitter dopamine, therefore someone older is less impulsive and subject to emotions. It’s good to know that I am not hooked on dopamine any longer. The truth is that now I think differently and, honestly, I don’t feel short-changed. It’s all good.