What does it mean to be a senior citizen?

Hello listeners. This is Malati Jaikumar here and I have something interesting to share with you all. A few days ago my friend’s daughter asked me what it feels like to be old! I was a bit taken aback but I told her with a smile that you will never grow old as long as you have love in your heart.

So what does it really mean to be old?

Broadly one becomes a senior citizen after or on the 60th birthday. But there is very much more to it than meets the eye. Contrary to common knowledge the cutoff date, in reality, is not always 60. There is a difference in the perspective of each person at different ages. To those in their seventies, sixty may seem young while the eighties envy the energy of those in the seventies.

By the time an average not-so-senior citizen touches 55, he/she may have to cope with the beginnings of some chronic disease such as Blood Pressure, Diabetes, back problems or Arthritis. A familiar phrase you get to hear from the doctor is “You have to live with it”. But these are easily controlled and quite a lot of people do live with it and also blossom after 60. Freed from the routine of office, the mind and body begin exploring new avenues of work. There is more time to pay attention to oneself. Yoga, exercises or walks become a routine. As one looks at those younger than oneself there is a motivation to follow a regimen to remain younger as long as possible. There is time to revive and follow your long forgotten passions and to break new ground.

The life of a senior citizen has a bit of the flavor of all the other years that went before. It is like reliving all the different stages all over again but with a difference. To begin with you have to learn to walk again — without falling down — and pick yourself up when you do. It will be foolhardy to stride vigorously or run up and down steps when a measured but fairly sedate stride is much safer. 

You become a child again playing games with grandchildren. One can dredge up old favourite jingles, long forgotten school songs and fun games like Simple Simon, Snakes and Ladders or “pallangkuzi”, reveling unabashedly in the simple excitement it provides. Children’s stories acquire new meaning and depth that went unheeded earlier. The truth hidden in these simple tales quite often eclipse the weighty wisdom contained in serious tomes.

The long forgotten discipline of school days is back in force with a vengeance and is adhered to even more rigorously as morning walks and exercises compel you to wake up, albeit reluctantly, at an early hour. A time table has to be reinstated with periods etched out for some form of sports; time to learn a new language or for attending music or computer classes. It is also a time to indulge in and fulfill long cherished whims like learning Thai Chi or Zumba.

Shades of teenage years are reflected in the voyage of discovery in one’s own mind, body and relationships. The turmoil triggered by the geriatric hormones can make this as bumpy a ride as the pimply puberty years. This is an awkward time when a good supportive family and a peer group with the right values would help.

Called the second childhood it takes a while to understand the ageing process because the mind and body do not keep pace together – the body seems to grow older faster than the mind. You can be in the fifties at heart when you are actually well past seventy!

The excitement of going abroad for higher studies, exploring a new milieu and making new friends at the university is all replayed when as a senior citizen you have to you pull up your stakes and move to a new locality, a new city, a retirement home or in some cases even a new country. This involves great resourcefulness, courage and mental strength. It means adjusting to a different climate, a different mindset and different habits. You have to refurbish your skills at making new friends; bond with strange people; enroll in fresh activities; cope with the nostalgia of having left the comfort zone of old family and friends and attempt to find joy in learning about the world beyond your limited horizon. This can be either disastrous or very inspiring depending on the person. 

While the twenties and thirties are spent striving for the goal ahead and chasing dreams; building strong foundations for the fulfillment of an ambition and fighting to keep ahead in the rat race, the seventies is a gentle river of serenity without the rough and tumble of relentless struggle. As long as you are fit and healthy the peace of living life at your own pace, doing what you want to do is sheer bliss.

You can speak your mind without fear of being misunderstood; you can say the most outrageous things and not be taken seriously. Either you will be respected and liked or you will be written off as senile and it does not really matter which, for life is too wonderful as you get older to bother about what other people think about you.

It is then that you start noticing the aged population around you and realize that age is a great leveler. The elderly may be infirm and hobble or limp around but the sparkle in their eyes in not dimmed. It comes as a surprise that men and women in their eighties can still laugh and crack jokes, even risqué ones and often rib each other with impunity.

This is also the time you find there are plenty of opportunities to share your knowledge and wisdom born of experience to guide the younger generation. Your lectures and classes not only keep your grey cells in good condition but also fill your heart with contentment. Interactions with the young keep you younger too.

Senior Citizenship is the stage of life:

*When you hear accolades of your children and grandchildren and their success tastes so much sweeter than your own.

*When their tears and sorrows cause you agonizing pain because you feel helpless to protect them from the harsh realities and ways of the world.

*When you learn to be tolerant – be it religion, politics or ethics. If you disagree you just keep quiet.

*When you give a helping hand to those around you who are much worse off and those who are too proud to ask for help.

*When you forgive yourself for past mistakes or relationships soured.

* When you have to be alert and guard yourself against scams and frauds, for very senior citizens are easy targets.

*When you accept the afflictions of age and you stop asking “why me?”

*When you stop regretting missed opportunities or lack of a healthier lifestyle.

*When you stop being envious of those healthier or wealthier than you.

*When you hold your little grandchild or great grandchild in your arms and inhale the indescribable fragrance of small babies.

*When you can spend hours with likeminded friends singing and talking about old films, old times and old customs and remembering school days and college days.

*When you are a cheerful and loving caregiver for your very sick spouse while your heart aches to see him/her suffer.

*When your love for your partner is so deep and so strong you do not need words. A glance, a smile or a touch is enough.

*When husband and wife who have weathered many storms and touched the heights of joy together face the end of life with stoicism and courage.

*When it is only natural and inevitable that Fate has snatched away your partner and the void is a never ending pain that nobody can assuage – not even your children or close friends. This is when you have to accept it as your own private hell.

*When you have to deal with loneliness, depression and self pity.

* When the nurse who changes your diaper is for the moment more important than your children in distant lands.

But you must always remember that the silver years are a blessing too for each day is a bonus and an adventure. As the candle grows shorter it burns brighter. There are no regrets and no apprehensions. There is just an eagerness to do more of everything; to touch more lives; express your love and appreciation for our loved ones and speak your mind openly and fearlessly. Live your life with more passion. Live in the present and revel in all the small delights whether it is a ray of sunshine, butterflies or the music in nature. Never forget that life can be truly beautiful.

Reblog – originally published as a podcast at CovaiVani

by Mrs Malati Jaikumar, resident of Covai S3 Retirement Community

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