Broadcast on BBC Radio 2, Pause for Thought, May 2003
This thought is for everyone out there who is just about to hit 40 or just has hit 40 and over. Everyone else, please indulge us old fogies.
A couple of years ago, I hit the big four zero. Around that time I started having trouble with my eyes. Sitting at my desk, I couldn’t read my phone list without taking my glasses off, but I couldn’t look at my computer without putting my glasses on. I decided to go to the optician for my not-so-regular check-up. I got the usual test done and he gave me a Latin name for my condition that I honestly can’t remember, but for me it meant only one thing: the onset of middle age.
I don’t want to freak everybody out, but once you see those grey hairs, and begin having those problems with digestion and eyesight, when you notice you’re becoming a little more chunky in the muscle and fatter around the waste, it means that you are getting older.
But once we’ve begun to get over the shock of old age, there are other important things to consider. While it is true that we are no longer youthful, this apparent loss is strangely also an advantage. Not only an advantage, it can be a positive social contribution.
Thinking back, when I had my first argument with my wife, there was nothing more comforting to me than when my uncle, his hand on my shoulder, told me, “It’ll be all right. We’ve all gone through it and survived”. I suppose misery loves company but it was a genuine relief that someone could show concern and relieve my anxiety. When I was a truculent teenager my mother shipped me off to my grandparents. They were so loving and understanding—never got on my case, and let me wander around as I pleased. I really appreciated how much they understood the space I needed. It was as if they understood me perfectly although I realise now that I hardly communicated with them the whole time I was there. They just knew kids.
Now I see myself getting opportunities to pass on such concern and affection to younger members of my family and young friends with whom I work and it is very satisfying. My only qualification to help them is that I’ve survived on the planet for 42 years. You can’t buy life experience. With middle age, the mode of life changes, but our consciousness and sense of identity also needs to change. We become seniors, people whom others look up to, people who can give sound advice, when delivered with sensitivity and humility, and who can be powerful in giving direction, comfort, and encouragement to a younger person.
And for all the youth out there, have fun now, but one day be prepared to be a senior member of society, and eventually an elder, and prepare to make a real contribution with grace, dignity and respect. Hare Krishna.