Two score and ten –  fifty years and growing

It is said that you know you are getting old when doctors and policemen look impossibly young. I had this experience about a year ago when I encountered an orthopaedic consultant who told me bluntly that ‘at my age’ they would not want to offer me surgery to repair a broken knee ligament. That was my first experience of feeling consigned to the ‘too old for..’ club and it was abit of a shock at the time though thanks to Alexander Technique and Pilates I am doing fine. It got me thinking though about our cultures attitude to aging – about the whole concept of ‘too old for’, about how we have de-valued elders and suchlike.

My Armenian great grandfather Aram Assadour Altounyan swore by yogurt eating and daily cold showers – and lived into his late 90’s, still working as a surgeon in Syria. A family story is that at 93 he operated on his wife – hands still skilful and steady. That’s more of a ‘work till you drop’ approach. Not sure I want to emulate him (especially the cold showers!) but can’t help admiring his tenacity.

In my twenties I remember happening across a talk being given by an indigenous elder woman who spoke eloquently about how differently age is viewed in her tribe. She said that the way they see it,  your life’s work does not start until you are 50 because – until then you are just recovering from your birth and early childhood.

Her words have stayed with me and now in my 50’s I feel like I am inhabiting two stories – the one she described and – less comfortably – our cultures’ story about aging where our 50’s can often be seen as that final stretch on the journey towards retirement.

I am not sure I want to work like my great grandfather-  till I drop – but I can’t at this stage imagine retiring. I’d like to find a middle way.   I recognise the need to change gear –  to re-calibrate what’s important, to savour life and to discern wisely how to use my energy and time in a different way to how I was in my twenties, thirties and forties.

I feel like I need new role models for how to do this next bit and for me David Bowie showed me something important about not being afraid to experiment and try new creative directions right up until the end . He said ‘’I think ageing is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been.  I’ll go with that and see where it takes me!

Jane Sanders is co-leading the Fruits of Maturity weekend with Alan Heeks at Hazel Hill Wood, June 2-4. For details, click here.