Pity The Young

from the Radio Times 10-16 May 2003; sadly, the writer is unidentified in the clipping I saw

Save the best till last How the young do dread old age! I can’t think why. Of course, it would be nice in some ways to be young again: to have long, smooth legs, no stiff joints when you wake, to be eyed up by the opposite sex and to be able to leap from a low sofa without thinking about it, but these are fleeting and trivial advantages.

Pity the young — don’t envy them. How they observably suffer, from social embarrassment, panic attacks, indecision, pimples, they’re miserable in love and anxious out of it, can’t bear being alone, they need drugs to get them through the day, let alone the night. Their powerful reproductive passions keep them short on self-determination, free will and moral choice. They can’t keep their relationships going — they must always be after something better around the corner. They lack the wisdom and conviction of experience.

We who are older know that people are not just bodies: they are minds, spirits and souls as well. People love you and you go on loving them, whatever your age. Friendships get stronger; so does the entertainment value of the world around you. The coachload of Saga tourists is having a better time and better conversation than the young couple off on holiday with the kids in the car, obliged to play ‘I Spy’ to get a little peace.

Old people, too, fall in love. I was once called in off the street to witness a wedding between Buttercup (third time around) aged 92, and Walter, bachelor, aged 87. It’s true that when they said, “the bride will now stand”, we had to help her up, but stand she did, and kiss the groom she did, and as they left, back to the retirement home where they had met, he said, “Now they’ll have to give us a double room.” Life stops when you want it to.

Odd how the young want to deny the old the rich pleasures of the present. They think sex is only for the youthful and the beautiful. (Are they mad? What do they think they look like when they’re at it, with their pimply backs and crimson faces, without the benefit of lighting and expert cameramen?)

But then the young have a vested interest in keeping the old neat and tidy and under control. No new bathroom extension, thank you very much, waste of money; no new partner — God forbid, the will might be changed; no luxury holiday up the Nile, might be dangerous, and how much? Let the old fight back, say I, and spend and live as they want, remembering how bad inherited money is for the character.

The young sometimes seem to want to terrify the old out of their wits, presenting old people’s homes as dens of misery, neglect and vice, where the toothless are tormented. It is true that sometimes horrible things happen, but they do anywhere, and certainly money must be spent and care must be taken.

Yet on the whole the staff of old people’s homes — my mother passed away in one recently at the age of 95 — are kind, lively and interesting, come from many cultures and have a genuine and reciprocated concern for their patients. The knack, I always thought, was to move into a retirement home earlier than family, friends or doctor would advise, so that fresh friendships can be formed and new interests acquired, until this world does indeed begin to close in and one quietens down in proper preparation for the next.

But that can be decades on. In the meantime, as I say, pity the young, do what you can for them — how they need you! — and party on.

5jt.com © 2003-13 Stephen Taylor
Permission to use quotes was neither sought nor obtained.

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