CommentaryOPINION

Acting Your Age

Two thousand years ago, Cicero suggested “it’s not old age that is at fault but our attitude towards it.” I wonder how would Cicero react if someone were to ask him to act his age.

So what does ‘acting our age’ mean?

How often do we utter such a phrase or have it said of us. Or perhaps we secretly made such judgements in our head. “Look at her, wearing those outrageous clothes, why can’t she act her age?” Sounds too familiar?

Talk to most adults. Deep down inside they don’t think of themselves as being their physical age but consider themselves to be the age at which they hit maturity, probably between 18 and 21. Certainly people’s personalities mature as they go through certain stages, such as getting married and becoming a parent. But while our bodies grow older, our spirit stays pretty much the same. So if someone tells you to “act your age” and you are 75 and going to take up belly dancing, as far as you are concerned you are acting your age. So, how does one “act their age”?

Or are senior citizens confined to aged-approved activities like Tai Chi and Qi Qong and golfing? Who determines what age is appropriate anyway?

“You’re only as old as you feel.” That saying has been around longer than any of us. It’s a statement of rebellion against time and the effect it has on us.  It’s a refusal to give in. It’s an excuse for not acting our age. And why should we? After all, age is just a number – does it have to be a state of mind?

But is it acceptable to wear jeans in your sixties? And is spending a month’s salary on a pair of shoes a sign of spontaneity or immaturity confined only to young adults? If we’re all busy enjoying life to the fullest and being ‘the best we can be’, who is to decide what age is appropriate? Does growing old mean giving up on selfish pleasures?

On one hand we are encouraged to eliminate wrinkles, colour greying hairs, hang-on to our youthful bodies and have it all, whatever our age. Yet, at the same time, we are chastised for dressing inappropriately, engaging in unsuitable activities, starting a romantic relationship and refusing to face up to our responsibilities. So, where does that leave the seniors?

Who decides that after a certain number of birthdays, we’re no longer supposed to have fun?  With all of the money being spent in this culture by people trying to look younger, you’d think a few more would try a little harder to act younger.  It’s free, and nothing covers wrinkles like a smile.

A few months ago, I took my niece to a local theme park. We spent the day riding everything from roller coasters to bumper cars and merry-go-round. We were like two kids. Only she is a kid. Me? I’m still in denial because I am not acting my age.

I read something that said, “I refuse to tiptoe through life, taking no chances and avoiding all dangers, only to arrive safely at death.”  I thought that was a pretty strong sentiment, and in line with my thinking.

I personally marvel at older people who have forgotten how old they really are. They’re no different than anybody else their age. They wake up in the morning feeling every aching muscle and joint in their body. They look in the mirror and see a reflection that isn’t quite what it used to be. And more often than not, they have to take a handful of pills before breakfast.

The difference is, they don’t care. Nobody tells them they’re too old to enjoy life, and if anybody did they wouldn’t give a damn. These are the people you see riding tandem bicycles in the evening, golfing on weekday mornings, and dancing when there’s no music. The ones you smile at in spite of yourself, because they seem to have found what we all want – happiness.

Is it sensible to generalise about the behaviour of old people? Why do we dictate that senior citizens should behave in a certain manner? Generalisation about infancy seems to be more accurate than those concerning toddlerhood. Adolescence with all its overheated confusion is nonetheless more consistent than early adulthood. When we get into old age, individuality is rampant. A longer life gives us more idiosyncratic personal experiences to separate Me from Thee. We all age differently. So, how do we determine what behavior is age-appropriate?

It is a known fact that aging is inevitable. It begins the day we’re born and it doesn’t stop until the very end.  Our hairs will turn gray, our skin will loosen, and our joints will stiffen up. But growing old is a personal choice. We may not be able to stop the process but we can sure make the most of it. In the end it is sometimes better to act the age you feel than the age you are.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw

Now, shall we stop acting our age?

Cecilia Chan

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