Between Here & Home: Growing old from day one

GUARANTEED Fun for Young and Old. That’s what was printed on the lid of the board game.

A throw-away piece of marketing blurb by Mattel, but one that says so much about the way we are aged by culture.

Who are these young people anyway? 

And when exactly will they cross the mysterious threshold and become old?

Presumably there’s a whole other group of people caught in some kind of ageist limbo who’ll derive no fun from the game whatsoever because of their lack of youth or age.

We can try to deny it, but Western culture still likes to package “old age” as a kind of homogenous entity.

It’s like Danny Katz wrote in The Age on Saturday – at 100 you get a nice letter from the queen… at 65 you get nice tax-free access to your superannuation... at 50 you get a nice package from the government with a little plastic stick inside to poke into your stool sample…

Society likes to pack age into convenient boxes, but to sort 50 to 100-year-olds as a single cohort is just as limiting as treating under-40s the same way. It’s true that the first four decades of a person’s life are a time of immense and constant change, but it doesn’t follow that the second half of life (if we’re lucky enough to have one) is all about stagnation and decline.

Ageing begins the day we are born, not when we receive a seniors card. 

That’s why I like the term “growing old”. It speaks of the diversity that comes with ageing – at every stage of life.

Age doesn’t erase our uniqueness or character. On the contrary, it heightens them.

It doesn’t mean we don’t mourn the inevitable losses in function (let’s face it, our chances of playing AFL take a battering after 30), or the death of friends and family – even the recognition of our own mortality. 

But like Woody Allen said about growing older, “No one’s ever found a better way of not dying young.”

There are plenty of examples out there that our ageing brains are much more elastic than we ever imagined. 

Winston Churchill became Prime Minister at 66. Frank Lloyd Wright completed his design of the Guggenheim in New York when he was 80.

But some gestures are just as inspiring for their subtlety.

Ten days ago, at a concert by indie band The National, I witnessed a most beautiful sight. 

A grey head and perfectly wrinkled face amid a sea of youth. 

When singer Matt Berninger joined the crowd towards the end of the show, he found his way to her row.

The woman cupped his face in her hands while he sang. 

And the pretence of age simply melted away.

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