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  IDEAS & IDEALS

Like An Old Man

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 After some years of silent but strenuous struggle against time’s steady onslaught on my body and mind, I have decided, at last, to capitulate to my age and become an old man. Now I accept my defeat, and declare as of today to the world that I am no longer a young man. My age of sixty-four considered, you may think that the declaration is long overdue, but I could not give up without a fight. I have fought as much fiercely and long as I could, and now I throw in the towel with a tearful smile.

     You may think that old age comes slowly and gradually, but no! It comes all of a sudden. One day I was quite surprised to see an old man in the mirror. There was an old man with his hair all turned gray. At first I could not believe my eyes. He was no other person than I. I did not notice the sea change being wrought upon my face in the meantime. Judging by my advanced age and all the accompanying physical signs and symptoms, I was verily an old man, but I was not conscious of it. And then the battle began.

     To become an old man is not an easy task. I had always thought that growing old would be like taking a walk in the park after dinner. But I was mistaken. Just as adolescence, it accompanied as many physical and psychological difficulties and problems. At first it left me at a complete loss what to do with myself and the world. I was sad and angry with myself. I wept silently. I felt suddenly very weak and tired, but I was not an old man yet. He came after I had made many trials and errors, advances and retreats, admissions and denials. The downward journey was as much difficult and hard as the upward one.

     Like adolescence, to be old is quite a new as well as a startling experience. Most of us meet with it unprepared. No one around you tells you about it. You have to experience and cope with it all by yourself in your turn. We often see some old persons, like children, behave foolishly, unpredictably, even erratically sometimes as the adolescent boys and girls do. That is because they feel uneasy and worried before the strange and unnatural experience they have never had. Evidently old men and children have much in common.

     Age only cannot make an old man. That is, all old men are not old men. Age can blunt or kill man’s enjoyment of physical pleasures, but it cannot entirely snuff out the desire for prolonging and enjoying them. You are not an old man even though you are seventy or ninety years old, so long as you continue to cling to the past when you were young. Despite the proclamation I made, I have to admit with a shame that I am still a young man in desire but old man only in age. I know I have still a long way to go.

     Despite many beautiful as well as consolatory phrases and words about the old age, it is not a desirable thing. It hurts our pride. In some sense it is against human nature. Nature always tells us to go up, to be forever young and strong, and continue to work hard and long. But old age means everything opposite to these propositions. It undermines your ego by telling you to go home and take care of your grandchildren. Like going down the road for the mountain-climbers, there is no fun, no thrill and no glory. Most people in old age are, therefore either depressed or angry within.

     I find most people in old age are full of complaints. Without exception they are chronic and incorrigible complainers, and they put all blame on their old age. They think they suffer from some diseases because they are old. They are poor because they are old. They have no fun because they are old. They grumble that their juniors do not show proper respect for them, and proceed to harp on the miseries the old age has brought to them. They yearn for the days gone by and sigh that life was good then, whereas now they can hardly be said to live at all.

     If only old age were to blame, my experience would be the same as theirs. But, in many cases, I have to say that they are putting the blame in the wrong place. Old age can be a cause of some individual misfortune or unhappiness, but youth itself does not guarantee fortune or happiness either. If there is only one thing to blame, that is not age, but personal character. For if men are sensible and good-tempered, old age is easy enough to bear. If not, youth as well as age is a burden. Usually, I find an unwise man in old age was unwise too when young.

     For example, most people think that rich men can carry their years much more lightly than the poor. It is true that the rich have more advantages than the poor. However, there are many who are not rich and find old age not a burden. A good man may not find old age easy to bear if he is poor, but a bad man will not be at peace with himself even if he is young and rich. A really good old man is he who is quite free from the cares of health, wealth, and all other desires, and the freedom leaves him in peace.

     Defeated in the battle I will not, from now on, resent or resist being treated as an old man, and endure all the mistreatments and swallow humiliations I am supposed to undergo. A defeated soldier has nothing much to choose. Hereafter I will think like an old man, speak like an old man, and act like an old man. As it is not proper and good for a young man to behave like an old man, so for an old man to mimic youth. I am afraid that I would end my life as an aged young man. Youth flies, and so does the old age. 

     (December 14, 2004)

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