Western society is obsessed with finding the elixir of youth. Plastic surgery, Botox, all reek of insecurity. If one doesn't actually like oneself and value the process of aging, it is easy to fall prey to the promise of eternal plasticised youth.
Human beings are complicated and no two people will share the same path towards enlightenment, or the lack thereof, nor will they share an identical outlook on life. One thing's for sure, with age comes confusion and as I get older, I am often aware of how little I actually know. In my 20s I thought I had all the answers and read philosophy at university in order to grasp more knowledge and become invincible in my understanding of well, everything. By my 50s I have seen too much sadness in the world, had many encounters with friends, acquaintances and lovers and even been desperately let down by my own blood. At this stage of my life, who I am is etched in my face- there are lines and liver spots. And my hair is very grey. My hands are deeply scored on the palms and more so on my left hand which I use for everything except peeling vegetables (for some unknown reason). My body is by no means Hollywood starlet. I would rue the hardship a washboard stomach would entail not to mention the deprivation. I put butter in everything when I cook (which is daily) and slather it liberally on my bread. I'm from a generation which believes that some flesh on your bones will keep you warm in the Winter. I love red wine and drink it every evening with my supper. I also enjoy a cognac or whisky before bed. If I fancy a bloody steak, I have one. The same goes for chocolate. The best part of meat is the fat and whenever I ask the counter assistant in the supermarket to leave it on, the look on their faces is priceless. I eat vegetables and fruit every day, bread, potatoes, all carbs in small amounts only. I stopped smoking but how I love the idea! Dairy doesn't agree with me and milk makes me feel ill. (I do not believe that we need to drink milk for calcium which I get from other foods. Dairy farming is against my principles and it doesn't hurt to still have some in this second half of my life.)
So what is the secret to eternal youth? There isn't one. We're all going to age and eventually head to the great big oasis in the sky. While we're here though, the best part of life happens in later years- no more chasing fantasies or things we can't have but a determined enjoyment of the present moment. This very second is infinite because it's all we've got. My sanity is maintained by long walks which offer silent periods of meditation and contemplation away from the deleterious noisiness that constitutes humanity. In walking, I burn off the fat so I don't actually get fat. Walking in all seasons also bolsters immunity.
Youthfulness is a state of mind and certainly not one where I would still want to be. More important than staying young is being happy, contented and still amazed at the sight of a peacock feather which someone kindly offered me yesterday (there is a resident peacock in the village where I live. No one knows how he got there). Stillness, the ability to compose one's thoughts and to control emotions in order to be balanced has a higher value than a Botoxed face. Tranquillity, an easy smile and consideration towards all living things makes us happier, more able to accept life as it is.
I once came across two snails mating, both joined together and completely motionless. They were on the wall so I assumed they were still alive. Days later they hadn't moved. Eventually they came apart and one promptly died perhaps from exhaustion but we will never know. Life is a process therefore that eventually will end. Our usefulness in this life is measured in terms of the length of time we live and also by how we have treated each other. If only humanity would move away from the obsession of appearance to a closer examination of the state of the heart, what a wonderful world this would be. Growing old is the gift of accepting that challenge and of bidding a grateful goodbye to our youth.
Narcissus doesn't live here anymore. Photo copyright S. van Dalen