Age: in the eyes of the beholder

A while ago I attended an introductory talk, kindly sponsored by my employers, as a precursor to a quit-smoking campaign. I know that it's bad for me and I can't stop on my own, so I went along to listen.  The person addressing us was a sprightly retiree with 20 years' worth of quitting experience under his belt, and a skin as thick as a rhino.

He needed it.  Having been consigned by someone disdainful to a noisy corner of the lunch-room, he opened his talk without even a chair or whiteboard.  One of us arranged a chair for him and, after we were already well into the presentation, another disdainful somebody wheeled in a dirty whiteboard.  To cap it all, she proceeded to clean a very narrow panel on the whiteboard – somehow implying that he'd only have a narrow amount to say.

He spoke, we listened, we interacted.  And he explained how the programme worked, that we'd have assignments and we'd be thoroughly involved in the process of regaining freedom.  At no point were we led to think that the appearance, personality, age or creed of the retiree before us would be the thing to loosen the choke-hold that nicotine has on us – the programme and our participation would be the thing.

I signed up, and immediately took myself outside for a cigarette to celebrate.  Which is one of the things I'll be learning to do as we go along – how to argue, worry, eat, socialise, talk, think, write and celebrate without cigarettes.  While lighting up, one of the disdainful people appeared on the balcony and a colleague asked if they'd be joining the programme.  The answer:  "No, I don't think he's right for our people….."!?

At this point it's important for me to explain that I am 48 years old, so according to modern thinking, I teeter on the brink of dotage.  However, if I were a successful actress in Hollywood, 48 is considered just a step away from adolescence.  Round about now, I'd be marrying a beautiful Mr Right and we'd be shopping for baby clothes as it's likely we'd be expecting our first child.  I'd be on my third set of teeth, my second set of breasts and wearing the hair of a Russian teenager.

But, I'm just an ordinary someone working a job and standing in supermarket check-out lines, and there are days when I know that I'm getting older.   There's much debate as to whether the new 30 is 50, but I think that only works for people in the very upper income bracket. 

The truth is: at the core of myself, I feel the same even as I pass the milestones of each decade.  The downside is mechanical wear-and-tear, but the upside is wisdom gained by pure experience.  I only found out that heartbreak wouldn't kill me after I'd survived the first one.  Similarly, I discovered that laugh-lines don't immediately render you hideous – it's the laughter that made you attractive to begin with.

In a society where technology morphs almost at the speed of light young people feel like they have all the advantage and not much need of senior citizens.  But in all the blipping and tweeting of our instant digital millenium, it's easy to forget that the world still takes 24 hours to spin it's way through a full day and night, that wisdom knows no age – and neither does foolishness.

(Joanne Hart, Health24, February 2011)

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