I like old people, and I hope my saying so won't offend any of them. Some of my best friends are people, and many of them are quite elderly! One of my youthful relatives by marriage pointed out that I probably relate better to folks in their sunset years because I am over the hill (as she so politely phrases it). While it is true that one loses one's looks, hair, and wit (refer the name of this column) with the inexorable passage of time, it is also true that we are all on this journey together. Unless, of course, you're Cliff Richard or one of those myriad Peter Pan-like stars, singers, and sundry entertainers who age in reverse.
The point that I was trying to make before I was so rudely interrupted is that we all grow old. "Margot, are you grieving over Golden Grove unleaving?" as the poet so sympathetically asked.
We age, we wither, we die. And as we grow old, we increasingly become painfully aware that bones creak, brains slow, and brawn groans that a glory is passing away. As the poet also rather insightfully remarked, in conclusion: "It is Margot whom you grieve for." Pity, then, that while the blush of youth still lingers, we often treat our senior citizens with such scant respect.
Consider. We worship youth and idolize those who can and do because they are young and fit and hale and hearty and have the time, money, and energy. We favour the majorly athletic over the merely authentic. We like our demigods and demigoddesses young, free, and preferably single.
We lionize those who are limber, and likeable, and (like us perhaps) rather shallow. And, by Western standards at least, we put our middle-aged working folk out to pasture quite early in the piece - in fact, while professionals and academics and civil servants have still quite a bit of expertise, oomph, and chutzpah left in them with which to serve nation, state, and country… while also earning their living?
Also, the Central Bank, it was revealed only last weekend, has pulled the pin on pensioners - by scrapping the lucrative savings scheme, which had retired old folks who were once dependent on their interest income now left in the lurch, out in the cold… because affording them 20% on their slim pickings was too heavy a price to pay: too burdensome a promise to keep, perhaps? Fickleness, thy name is government - when it comes to forking out the cold hard dough, which widows and orphans live on!
While we're at it, let's point the other four fingers elsewhere at the same time that we give the treasury a rude Anglo-Saxon thumb. One, at schools and universities, which pay their longstanding teachers and senior lecturers a pittance by comparable professional standards. Two, at the private sector, which discriminates against older employees - by dint of not realizing that a flighty young co-worker at 30 is less stable and sure an investment, than a dedicated and committed team member at 40.
Three, at families, which relegate their once-beloved elders to old-age homes for no better reason than their parents and grandparents can be a right-royal nuisance (if only you would flash back to the time when they loved you, and weaned you and wormed you, and cleaned up your mess-after-mess right up after you?). Four, at friendships and "auld acquaintance" now grown cold… because the lad with whom you laughed and leaped, or the damsel with whom you dallied and loved, now has to get from place to place with a walker (if you would only fast-forward to your own impending seventh age: sans eye, sans tooth, sans everything). So… altogether now, thumbs up - and let those four other fingers point right back at you!
As for me, let me confess that I, too, have been in Arcady. Once. And now I have sinned, by virtue of leaving it so late to mourn for Margot and her ilk (or is it me I grieve for?). The words of another poet of yore spring to mind… one whose words dripped like water off a duck's back in that faraway classroom in another lifetime: "Let us honour if we can/ the vertical man/ though we value none/ but the horizontal one…" Or, as the Latin tag would have it: "Abiit, excessit, evasit, erupit." Meaning: it has left, it has gone, it is absconding, it has vanished. Youth, methinks?