Not too long ago, it happened, I turned ‘old’: mildly put it a ‘senior citizen’. As I was making a train reservation, the computer popped the question ‘do you want the senior’s discount?’ Perhaps, I should have jumped with joy, and rejoiced knowing that I am a member of the billion-people club. According to a UN report, the ‘number of people in the world aged 60 years or over is projected to 1.4 billion by 2030’. However, I took it in a lackadaisical ‘so-what’ pace.

So, what does it mean to be old? Society sets arbitrary dates to demark a life term into phases: age of majority, driving age, drinking age, marriageable age, retirement age, are such examples. They are permissions or restrictions based on age for the common good of the individuals and the society. They are also based on certain logical assertions and best practices and are demarcations for legal and or economic purposes or act to as a guide. People may or may not start drinking or driving at the age set by the authorities. Moreover, they may not be an indicator or a measure of one’s physical or mental capabilities.

Then, there are age-associated barriers set by nature itself: walking, talking, childbearing, etc. They are not set in stone either, they move up or down on the scale depending on the person’s physical, biological, emotional, and other intrinsic conditions.

At some point, the society mandates us to retire from active employment. Again, this phenomenon is not universal; there are countries that accord no retirement age to their citizens. Many nations in the world bestow defined benefits to seniors by the way of pensions, income supplements, subsidized housing, and free healthcare. There are many organizations cater to seniors that provide discounted merchandise, transportation tickets, and food and drinks. In addition, some societies treat their seniors with due respect as soon as the age is factored into life’s equation.

That brings me to an advertisement on the radio that asked, ‘what is age? Is it a date on the calendar? Is it the number of candles on the birthday cake?’ How do you distinguish ‘old’? By the wrinkles under the chin, hands, gray hair and beard, eye-bags, lip lines, sagging skin, a bent posture, slow walk, or sluggish demeanor? Nothing matters more if you have a sound mind, and good health. Of course, as we age, we exhibit age related physical and mental changes and challenges. The natural aging process brings in certain deficiencies and perhaps some anomalies to the physical body and to the mental constitution. However, those challenges should never negate our life experiences.

‘No celebrations please’ I indicated to my family way ahead of my birthday. To me, the word ‘aging' has a negative connotation. Why do you want to celebrate ‘oldness’ as if I am a person with diminishing capacities? ‘Aged like a fine wine’ may be a better analogy as aged wine has an appreciated value. Perhaps it is better to celebrate successes and accomplishments rather than age.

old age

When we were children, Amma used to send us, children, to the temple for a pooja, and some prasadam. Sometimes there were some special dishes prepared for a small informal sadya. There was no elaborate anything, most of the time no one, other than a few family members, knew about birthdays at all. However, these days it is the norm to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc. lavishly.

From my perspective, age hasn’t made much difference: my outlook and lifestyle remain the same except for certain adjustments when comes to food and drink. My father when he was in his 60s complained about slowing down, arthritic pain, stiff knee joints, etc. When asked to rub liniments on his knee, I used to joke and say, ‘it’s all in your mind’. Now, I know the reality. I too feel the pain here and there occasionally.

Agelessness is a state of mind. According to Dr. Oz, your ‘real age’ matters more than the chronological one. Factor in all the risk factors such as BP, cholesterol, weight, lifestyle, etc. to come up with the real age. However, we have to accept certain realities that age brings in. These days, when friends get together our discussions center around nostalgia-filled high school, college, and childhood discussions, along with pension funds, aches, and pains, medications, and retirement locations.

Driving back home from work, I heard it on the radio that sentimentalism, nostalgic feelings, and faith in God start to increase once a person reaches midlife. Suddenly I thought about my friend, who one Sunday morning decided to attend church once again. It is a known fact that a majority of young North Americans during their formidable and invincible age stay away from church and religion only to return to seek God later in their fifties.

Finally, here is the story of Al Blackman who recently celebrated his 75th work anniversary with American airlines. His company went out of the way to celebrate his success. He is 91 now and has no intention of retiring. When reporters asked him about retirement, his response was, ‘You stay home and watch the television, that's not my style’.

Birthdays come and go, and on the totem pole of age we inch up every day, but we all have, ‘promises to keep, and miles to go’ as Robert Frost said.

(The author, a technology professional, resides in Toronto, Canada with his family)