Blessings of autumn of life
Readers of The Times should laud the efforts of this newspaper that publishes academic articles like that of Maja Miljanic Brinkworth (June 12).
Explanatory research on senior citizens deserves the attention of the public and of the government. Though Dr Miljanic Brinkworth’s erudite exposition is well supported by statistical data, it seems she has to be generic at times as she covers so much ground in such a little space.
I am all praise for her article. I do not intend to be destructive or derogatory. However, she missed giving more importance to the role of exercise as an agent of active ageing, except for a brief illustration of “the long distance runner”.
Apart from this, I believe a similar study will be more concrete if one collects in writing the “life-course analysis” that concentrates on the individual experiences of an octogenarian.
“Active ageing does not begin in old age,” she remarks. True, but active ageing is the culmination of a past life and the beginning of a new one marked by senior citizenship. The process of life of, say, a teacher is by no means identical or symbolic of all teachers. He is not the microcosm of the group. His individual values are continual variables and perhaps unique. Besides, both the location (Malta) and the historical period (1930- ?) are relevant conditions.
In short, the individual person deserves the focus of a study.
He may attribute his longevity to a life spent with young people: a profession that lasted 48 years. The students’ exuberance, their joviality, their happy disposition and their sense of humour were perennial stimuli to a happy disposition. The maximisation of this happiness is retained and reflected in old age.
In addition, all his leisure hours are dedicated to sports activities, which change with age and physical abilities. They range in succession from athletics and gymnastics to football, hockey and cricket and then to badminton, tennis and golf.
Sports endows his life with a coterie of friends who teach him to be gregarious, a condition that enriches his character till old age. He also rates the daily walks and the swimming sessions as physically enhancing routines that reinforce the never-ending spirit of youthful pleasures. He still appreciates a virility of life that wards off the inevitability of eternal rest.
Besides the physical well-being, the mind feeds on other healthy routines. One motto he keeps in mind: he never trades health for wealth. Instead, he believes that books still nourish his mind. As an avid reader, he keeps discovering the best of other minds. Every author he consults offers parts of his past that forms a contribution to his success. Every writer pours out his intelligence and his passions that both clarify or elucidate his innermost thoughts and emotions.
As a published author, he finds writing therapeutic. The psychological relief is a lesson for posterity or, at least, for those who read him.
Many people find both pleasure and instruction in reading. They are stimulated by an urge for knowledge, for learning and for creativity.
Retirement does not let any free time hang heavily on his mind. Though late in life, the computer, as a word processor and as a search engine, still improves his outlook of life.
As a keen writer, he feels engaged in a race against time; in trying to beat the inevitability of eternal rest. He finds himself engaged in an optimistic contest. He looks forward to every opportunity that instils in his mind that he has time for an active future. Looking ahead reinforces the optimistic belief that his future has still a long race to run. He may even engage in an academic study that he hopes to finish before his time of eternal bliss.
The resignation of the inevitability of death wards off any fear of afterlife. His philosophy is that what lies beyond is the reward for every “ambassador of ageing”. It is a place of life’s fulfilment. Birth infuses life and the human being embarks on a missionary journey. He accepts moral duty, a distinction between good and evil. He follows a conscience that encourages him to do this duty well.
As a teacher, it is an incentive to transform character, to sow a future and to launch others into a career. His students show their gratitude when they greet him joyfully long after his retirement. They seek him for advice; they plead for a recommendation.
These are the joys of an upright teacher, little treasures that old age could not erase, that make pensionable life worth living. Peace in death is a merited reward: The good is interned with his bones.
He may recall his hardships, the pre-war poverty, the wartime bombardments and stark starvation, the life indecisions of the aftermath of war, the early education in route buses, in shelters, in band clubs, all remembered as a long adventure of childhood and youth.
He welcomes these turbulent experiences. He believes that they build the strong resistance and durability of his character. The tribulations of a family that lives from hand to mouth for months on end are not forgotten in old age.
Reminiscences of childhood and youth remain fresh in mind. He still talks about them with pride, as if they are heroic efforts that deserve an award. Nostalgia often shakes memory into life. Possibly, it wards off dementia.
His books trumpet his early life, an example of national pride. The various anecdotes and war stories, reinforced with colourful imagery, assuage the weaknesses of old age.
On the credit side, he recalls the succession of scholarships, the courting days, the blissful marriage, the two boys, the five grandchildren, the beautiful home, the visits abroad and the friends at golf. All are recorded in a mind that recalls them in moments of tranquillity.
He is thankful of both his good fortune and also of his blessings of old age.