My nan is ninety-two. She’s smoked a pack of ciggies and drank a six pack of beer a day for most of her life.
She lives in a Freemason Nursing Home back in Australia which depresses the bejesus out of me, but she loves it. Anyway, one of the things my nan always said up until recently is that she stills feel the same inside. She has a bit of a hump, her feet are swollen to the size of big planks and she has more wrinkles than I have hair, but on the inside she is the same woman. That true self is ageless.
I like to think of aging as the process of the ego dissolving into the soul. Where all the baggage we lug around and the barbed wire fences we put around ourselves are seen as pretty pointless at some stage and instead we step into the wisdom of life. A wisdom that our souls have always known, but it has taken decades for our egos and personalities to absorb.
I wish countries like the U.S., U.K. and Australia had a culture that was more like the East and Russia where old people are not perceived as children, but as what they truly are: our Elders. (I stole this term directly from a book by David Suzuki called “The Legacy: An Elder’s Vision For Our Future.” I have been rolling it around in my mind for a while now. I really like it.)
You see, it doesn’t matter if they are “cranky old bastards” or serene, wise women with twinkles in their wrinkle; the elderly are overflowing with stories and life experiences. They are teachers that have experienced the blessed, the putrid, the sublime and the heartbreaking. Most of them have given life, and raised children. Most of them have worked endlessly and witnessed more change than any other generation of humans. What an opportunity to respect that, to listen and take on what lessons and advice we need to.
Just because their skin is transparent and flapping all over the place and they may need some assistance with eating and moving, doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve to be seen. Really seen. It doesn’t mean they still don’t like to feel attractive, laugh till they cry, eat great food, dance, have sex and use their minds to tackle problems. We so often label age as stupidity. Yes, for some, cognitive function may decrease, but the wisdom stuff increases tenfold. In our society we value head over heart so much, and this is prime example of that.
The big message my nan is teaching me right now is about presence. Her cognitive function has declined a little, and her ego and personality are fading as her memories disappear, but she is totally serene. There is just the now. Time is a mixed up bunch of moments that have shaped a life that is now ready to be harvested for its wisdom.
Let’s take some of that wisdom that is also shouted about across all religions and spiritual philosophies and treat others as we want to be treated. I reckon that applies even more so to our elders. I know when I am ninety, I will still want to be seen, loved, and listened to. And maybe even have a cheeky cuddle.
So here’s a call out to all the Elders out there. As we say in the hood: Respec’.
Zali is an Aussie writer and yoga teacher hibernating in Moscow for a few years. You can get your fangs into more of Zali’s articles here.